Developer Considering 60 Units of Affordable Housing for North Main Street, near Mattera Cabin

Residents Object.

A developer is interested in putting 60 units of affordable housing on north Main Street in Reading, just north of the town-owned Mattera Cabin and a group of residents told the Board of Selectmen Tuesday how they feel about the idea.

They don’t want it.

This area is an aquifer for the Ipswich River, with vernal pools, Richard Svirsky, a director of the Reading Open Land Trust, told the selectmen, and ties in to Bare Meadow and the use of the cabin.

No application has been filed for the “Residences at Bare Meadow,” proposed for 1503 Main St., but a Development Review Team of town department heads, including planning, building, police, fire, engineering and health has reviewed a preliminary, conceptual  plan and offered three and a half pages of comments on different aspects of the plan. Among their requests:  a current site survey; determining the best location for the driveway; and minimizing paved parking.

Attorney Manuel Rabbitt told Patch yesterday that he expects to have all the questions answered and to meet again with the town design team within 60 days. He declined to name his client, citing attorney-client privilege. The project on a just-under-10-acre site is still in the conceptual stage, the Danvers attorney said. He hopes the project could “get into the ground” later this year.

Rabbitt said he would like to work with the town, under the state’s Local Initiative Program, on the project.

Under state Chapter 40B affordable housing rules, a developer can either seek a comprehensive permit from the local zoning Board of Appeals, bypassing local zoning regulations, or work with the town in what Town Manager Peter Hechenbleikner described at Tuesday’s selectmen’s meeting as a “friendly 40B.” The town has done that with several new developments.

The Local Initiative Program would be quicker, Rabbitt said.

The town cannot reject a 40B application for affordable housing out of hand because the town is 2.75 percent short of the state-required 10 percent of such housing, Hechenbleikner told the selectmen.

Beyond the town’s Development Review Team, the town’s Conservation Commission and conservation administrator had concerns about the proposal.

The project site contains a protected wetland, according to conservation administrator Charles Tirone, but the delineation of the wetlands are unknown now, according to Tirone, because the plans are out of date and do not show current conditions on the site.

In addition, “The project design does not appear to reflect consideration for environmentally sensitive areas.” He suggests that the applicant “Relocate or reduce the impact of several buildings and other features of the plan that could affect wetlands.”

And “More comprehensive environmental studies should be done before the project is considered,” Tirone wrote in a letter dated Dec. 6 to the zoning Board of Appeals.

The town has asked whether the developer might allow access over the site from Mattera Cabin to a proposed new traffic light for the development on Main Street. That’s possible, Rabbitt said, if legal aspects are addressed.

At the same meeting where residents voiced their opposition to this housing proposal, the selectmen approved an updated Affordable Housing Production Plan. The previous plan, approved in January of 2007, expired after five years.

The revised 60-page document includes an assessment of community housing needs, a list of goals and implementation strategies.

The plan includes information on the town’s residents and their housing, from household incomes and what percentage of residents’ incomes they spend on housing to a survey on local housing issues.

For example:  Reading’s population increased by 4.4 percent, to 24,747, between 2000 and 2010, based on federal census numbers. The study sees growth in the age 65 and over population.

Reading has 8,688 occupied housing units.

Some 28 percent of households comprise non-family members. Ten percent of them are age 65 and older.

The median sales price of a single family home here -- in 2006, $420,000 – dropped to $400,000 in 2009 but rose in 2010 to just above the 2006 price.

If the plan receives final state approval, the town could receive a one-year reprieve from 40B if the town adds .5 percent of affordable housing units –48 units, according to town staff planner Jessie Wilson, and a two-year reprieve for adding 1 percent affordable units.

The town will reach the 10 percent goal – 10.2 percent – in 2016, according to the document.

Some 130 people answered a housing survey included with the plan. Just over 50 people added comments about housing here. Some 15 oppose more affordable housing.

The most emphatic of those comments:  “Stop using my outrageous tax payments to promote politically correct social engineering. If only well-to-do can afford to live in Reading, so be it.”

Rob February 15, 2013 at 11:45 AM
The majority of the town was in favor of keeping 40b when we voted on it a few years ago. We get what we deserve.
M February 15, 2013 at 06:53 PM
How much can we trust a developer who won't even identify itself to the town as it seeks some kind of cooperation from the town in its LIP proposal, who hides behind attorney client privilege in a public meeting, of all things? I totally respect attorney client privilege, am an attorney myself, but this is just silly, in this context.
Carol s. February 15, 2013 at 10:26 PM
What happens if we don't reach the 10% goal. What have the consequences been for only being at 2.7%? And this article certainly paints a different picture than the BOS suggested.."don't worry about it... It probably will never happen." However it seems that this is going forward. Quickly. Did they know all this planning had happened?
M February 16, 2013 at 02:07 AM
We are 2.75 % short of being 10%, not 2.75% affordable. So, we are at about 7.3% affordable.
Rob February 16, 2013 at 12:31 PM
Ron, there was a ballot question to repeal 40b a few years back. The state overwhelmingly voted not to repeal it. Reading as a town was also against repealing it. So who are we to complain about the problems it is causing, when we voted for keeping it.
Tom Jeffords February 16, 2013 at 04:04 PM
Affordable housing, 40B Housing, call it what you will. The bottom line is they are low income housing. Don't the Reading Police get enough calls to the Archstone projects on West Street without having to deal with the inevitable problems that will develop on Main Street?
Readingite February 16, 2013 at 05:17 PM
There is a threshold that you have to meet and some can't even make that. Low income does not equate more calls. Archstone is a denser populated area so it looks like more calls. I find it very sad the way people are talking about people who basically make less then others, like we are less of a person. They are just as hard working as you. Your treating them like some sort of imperfection on your town.
Rob February 16, 2013 at 06:23 PM
Readingite, why should someone that can't afford to live in Reading get to live there. I'd love to live in Weston, but I can afford it, so I don't. And if you don't think low income correlates to more crime, you're living in a fantasy world.
Will Finch February 16, 2013 at 11:01 PM
One point of 40B is to allow people to live near where they work. This makes a lot of sense. It also promotes diversity in all communities. I have known people to leave Reading because it it so insular and lacking in diversity. The concept of a 40B is partly based on the concept that diversity is good for any community. That said, 40B's need to be done well. This one is off the charts density wise.
Readingite February 16, 2013 at 11:25 PM
Rob obviously you not in a place or none of your family members are that need a 40b. Your Weston comparison is off. A 40b is not moving them into a million dollar house. It's moving into a place that price controlled. Think New York and rent controlled apartments. If you have ever looked at some of the requirements of making 35k a year for a single. That puts them I middle class range so it won't ruin your perfect town image. It's helping people in a lot of cases students and single parents get a start on their life.
Ron Powell February 17, 2013 at 06:54 AM
The problem is not that "low income" (note: socially acceptable code words for African-Americans and Latinos) can't afford living in Reading. It's that we make it impossible for them to have access to living in Reading with our zoning laws. It's not 40B that is tying the hands of the Town; it is a narrow group of people using zoning laws to tie the hands of people who would otherwise live in Reading. 40B is designed to level the playing field.
M February 17, 2013 at 01:57 PM
My personal concern with 40b is not who is living there as much as how many folks of ANY income are being squeezed into a small footprint-- in other words density. Can anyone point to a single 40b project that is in character with its surrounding neighboring residential structures or neighborhood? Instead of 4 or 5 units an acre, these developers(for pure profit to fit as many units on land as possible not any desire to add to affordable housing) will put 20-30 units/acre. That's why all these developments look the same: 5 story high boxes with the same architectural details in every development
Rob February 17, 2013 at 02:36 PM
When all else fails, play the race card. Ron - could you point to the zoning laws that make it impossible for African-Americans and Latinos to live in Reading?
Readingite February 17, 2013 at 07:50 PM
M I agree with you
Ron Powell February 17, 2013 at 08:31 PM
African-Americans make up about 0.4 percent of residents, and Latinos make up about 0.8 percent. Heck, there are twice as many Canadian-Americans living in Reading as African-Americans and Latinos combined. Median household incomes of Asians in the Boston area is $79,000; for whites, it's $74,000; for African-Americans, it's $42,400; and for Latinos, it's $38,500. So when we use the term "low-income," we are talking about a disproportionate amount of African-Americans and Latinos. And when we use exclusionary zoning practices that make affordable housing hard to obtain, we're primarily affecting these two ethnic groups. Density controls are one way municipalities control access to affordable housing. Additionally, liberal use of (I would argue over-use in some cases) Massachusetts' open spaces law limits affordable housing. In many cases, a country club may avoid paying taxes by promising not to develop on land. For example, the Meadowbrook Golf Club. So, you have the double problem of wealthy landowners and businesses avoiding taxes AND less space to develop affordable housing alternatives. It's really just a simple statement of fact, really.
Ron Powell February 17, 2013 at 09:37 PM
The trade-off, of course, is losing open spaces. We can develop on our open spaces; however, that also will detract from the character of the town. A third alternative could convert existing structures into affordable units without affecting density. That might be the best approach. Elsewhere, I point out how, for example, the Meadowbrook Golf Club receives a tax break in exchange for promising not to develop on its land. This has the double effect of reducing our tax base (in a very regressive way, mind you) and preventing us from developing affordable units in less dense areas.
Tom Jeffords February 17, 2013 at 10:25 PM
A fourth alternative would be for Ron Powell to build an addition on his house, and have it zoned for 40 B housing.
M February 17, 2013 at 10:49 PM
I understand it is better to concentrate housing somewhat to preserve open spaces, but unless it is all rentals, all those units do nothing much to help our affordable housing goals, while still adding many market-rate residents who may or may not consume town services in excess of their taxes paid. I just feel that with Reading Commons, Reading Woods, Haven Street, and the numerous other smaller but still dense 40b developments, that Reading really has put in our share towards expanding affordable housing for the state. Surely there are plenty of other towns where the land is cheaper, where there is more buildable space, where there is very little "affordable", deed restricted housing, where developers could build. I feel like the state should somehow force developers to go to these towns with cheaper land and low % affordable first, before burdening very dense towns with a big new developement every other year. There should be more than just 10% threshold being taken into consideration.
Ron Powell February 18, 2013 at 12:45 AM
I know you were trying to contribute intelligently to the conversation, and I applaud your sincerity of effort, but if you go back and read carefully what I wrote, that would still be the first alternative. What we can do, however, is convert over existing structures to provide affordable housing, and this would satisfy M's desire to preserve open spaces without squeezing housing into a smaller footprint. Another alternative might be to stop letting some of the wealthiest landowners avoid paying ANY property taxes in exchange for promising not to develop on their land. When you think about this, this forces you to pay more taxes, and it also makes it easier for outside developers to come in under 40B.
Ron Powell February 18, 2013 at 03:04 AM
40B does provide an exclusion -- if a town creates a five year plan for growth, it can be exempt from 40B as long as it increases affordable housing by one-half percent year over year. That is what we did in 2007 when I was serving in town government, and that is what we have done again here. If my math is correct, we need to add about 45 new units ever year between now and 2016. The proposal is to add 60 units on 10 acres of land that is currently undeveloped and considered open space.
Ron Powell February 18, 2013 at 03:06 AM
Another way to achieve this is to DECREASE the number of housing units in Reading. We can do this by further increasing open space, but then we lose part of our tax base.
M February 18, 2013 at 03:43 AM
Ron, do we have to add 45 units of AFFORDABLE each year? Because, with 40b developments typically being 10%-20% affordable, that also sounds like we need to effectively add 225-450 total units to get the 45 affordable units, right? So that would be, for each year between 2013-2016, about 900-1800 new units of housing over 4 years? I'm not sure how much of the population of all this would be school-aged children, but, assuming, e.g., 10% of the total number of new units each contains a school aged child, that is still quite a number of kids added. And, I'm being conservative (and I have school aged kids, so not biased against them, just facing facts). As for the 60 units on 10 undeveloped acres, my guess is that less than half that acreage is actually buildable, is that right? There are wetlands, streams, etc?
M February 18, 2013 at 03:44 AM
Let me clarify, I meant that over 4 years there would be 900-1800 new units, not 900-1800 a year -- still a lot of new housing in a short time, IMHO
Ron Powell February 18, 2013 at 04:02 AM
I totally missed this in the article (and boy am I mad that I actually made myself do the math, lol): "If the plan receives final state approval, the town could receive a one-year reprieve from 40B if the town adds .5 percent of affordable housing units –48 units, according to town staff planner Jessie Wilson, and a two-year reprieve for adding 1 percent affordable units." So the Town needs to add 48 units each year. Now, what I recommend is that we take some of the existing unused space downtown and work with existing landlords and owners to convert that space into affordable housing. For example, upper-story housing units in commercial buildings. Convert existing single-family homes into multi-family units. The town could even explore the State CDBG Program to help it with its goals, if it has not done so already. Convert the unused upper stories of two or three commercial buildings, and maybe a dozen multi-family unit conversion projects, and you have achieved affordable housing without putting a shovel to the ground.
Ron Powell February 18, 2013 at 04:07 AM
That is true if we are bringing in new developers. Most new developers will want to limit affordable units to 25 percent or less. But if we take existing unused commercial space and convert it, we can make nearly all of them affordable units. There is an incentive for both the owner and the Town, and there are state programs that might provide us with a source of funds. We don't have to go crazy with this -- three to six units at a time. Stick with small projects that keep the aesthetics and open spaces of the Town and that make sense.
Ron Powell February 18, 2013 at 04:17 AM
One final thought: Town Meeting really should consider adopting the CPA. We are missing so many opportunities by choosing not to leverage the Community Preservation Act.
M February 18, 2013 at 04:19 AM
Ron, your suggestions seem to make sense as far as adding units to existing buildings - probably more likely rentals, not sure anyone wants to buy a condo above a store or restaurant except in places like Boston and Cambridge. Converting existing single families into multiples (e.g., a large home split into 2 apartments, or similar) would not be problematic to neighbors, but a large old house like those on Summer Ave or Woburn St suddenly subdivided into 5 units (or rented by the room) may give pause to neighbors, in terms of changing availability of parking, additional, noise and suddenly finding one living next door to 15 or 20 people sharing 5 different apartments, where it previously had been a simple single family residence inhabited by a family of 6. You cannot guarantee your neighbors forever, but it does change things when you paid a high price to be in residentially zoned area of single family homes and suddenly find yourself surrounded by multi-unit dwellings. If we cannot attract businesses to the old Kuerig bldg (and that would be preferred), I could see a locale like that ripe for re-development into multi-unit housing, too - one more big rental complex might satisfy much of our 40b needs. But, I'd rather see business there, maybe expansion of Hallmark Health.
George February 18, 2013 at 04:16 PM
Yes the Town should adopt the CPA so that open space like the parcels discussed here can be acquired and preserved as open space. The percentage of any group living in Reading is irrelevant. People tend to migrate and settle where there are people like themselves. Reading is pretty much a fully developed community with little or no developable space and the law should have provisions for recognizing that instead of requiring a flat percentage. Also Reading has done a lot to move toward more affordable housing and that should factor in as well. Reading's zoning is not exclusionary and the comment about where we can afford to live IS relevant and is determined by the free market.
martha April 11, 2013 at 02:05 PM
Has anyone thought to survey any of our older multi-family units. I'm sure that a good number of them could be registered as "affordable. Not everyone is out to get the largest rent the market will bear!
martha April 11, 2013 at 02:11 PM
Yes, M I agree; less density can still accomplish goal of our town, but of course not of the developers


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