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Charles Tirone, but the delineation of the wetlands are unknown now, according to Tirone, because the plans are out of date and do not show current conditions on the site.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.”