Sunderland senior housing plan moves forward

  • Sunderland special town meeting Tuesday, September 20th at the Elementary School. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—Andy Castillo

  • Sunderland special town meeting Tuesday, September 20th at the Elementary School. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—Andy Castillo

  • 120 North Main St., Sunderland. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—Andy Castillo

  • This house at 120 North Main St. in Sunderland will be preserved and refurbished as part of a senior housing project. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

For the Gazette
Thursday, September 29, 2016

SUNDERLAND — Bringing affordable senior housing units into town took a step forward Tuesday night.

A two-thirds majority of about 75 voters who attended a special Town Meeting authorized the Select Board to convey a parcel of land at 120 North Main St. — purchased by the town in 2014 for $265,000 with help from Community Preservation Act money — for the purpose of developing housing units.

Selectman Scott Bergeron explained before the vote that the action was needed to create a request for proposals, the next procedural step in the search for an acceptable developer.

“There was generally a consensus that the town needed senior housing,” said Lorin Starr, a town building committee member who presented the project. She said that while the town does not want the responsibility of building the project, officials do want some oversight.

The housing project is at least in part an effort by the town to satisfy a state-mandated 10 percent affordable housing quota. As of 2014, only one-half percent of the town’s housing was affordable.

If a town does not make an effort to increase affordable housing available, local governments lose a significant amount of control over how and where a development is constructed. Based on that law, and despite a lengthy court battle starting in 2008, the state Supreme Judicial Court bypassed town zoning laws and gave Sugarbush Meadows LLC permission to move forward in developing a 150-unit residential complex off of Plumtree Road.

Moving forward, Alyssa Larose, a planning specialist with the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, said the proposal for the 120 North Main St. development will require that units have an age and income restriction in addition to giving some preference to town residents, based on need.

“The market study shows a great need in this town, as well as surrounding towns,” Larose said, addressing a question from the audience about how the units will be filled. “It would be restricted to 60-plus and income eligible.”

Specifically, Larose said she anticipates that the units will be filled through an application process and a random lottery system.

Since the project was initiated two years ago, Starr said the town has received over $30,000 in grant funding for preliminary background work, such as the market analysis referred to by Larose and a site feasibility study conducted by Berkshire Design Group.

According to Starr, preservation of wetlands is a big reason why the town initially purchased the parcel. She said that if the town had not bought the land, per state law a developer would not be held to the same preservation standards.

Another town goal is to maintain the historic character of Main Street, in part by refurbishing — instead of destroying — a historic house that currently sits on the plot near the street.

“It’s kinda the heart of our town. It’s important to us, and we don’t want to give that up,” Starr continued. “We really wanted to make the least impact on North Main.”

A conceptual design presented at the meeting, created by a landscape artist, outlines the project as having about 18 units in total, 16 of which would be housed in two-story, barn-like buildings connected by a common area, the two others in the existing house.

“It’s really a fairly small development,” she said, addressing potential traffic concerns. “We’re not gonna accept a proposal of, say, 30 units.”

The Select Board will now issue a request for proposals and wait for responses. Starr said she does not expect many bids. She said most subsidized housing developers are nonprofit organizations because “it’s not a big moneymaker.”

Other votes

Other items also approved by two-thirds majority during the meeting, included “paying out-of-district tuition and transportation costs for a Sunderland student attending Smith Vocational Technical High School,” and a transfer of $32,419 to pay health insurance costs for five new town and school employees.

Residents unanimously passed a $1,423 fiscal year 2014 sewer charge that had  been overlooked and an almost $400 overpayment charge for town ambulance services.