A petition is asking officials to slow down approval of the zoning amendment until it can be reviewed more fully.
ADAMS, Mass. — Residents remain wary of a proposal to adopt the state's 40R legislation that would provide incentives for reusing old buildings for both the town and developers.
But Tuesday's more than two-hour meeting explaining step by step the statute, the definitions, and how a Smart Growth Overlay District would work seemed to temper some of the controversy.
"None of us will leave until we have every question at least answered," said Town Administrator Jay Green to the well-attended gathering at the Visitors Center. "You may not like the answer. You may not agree with it, but we're going to answer the question for you."
The town's consideration of the 15-year-old Chapter 40R caused an uproar over the past couple months as many residents believed it referred to public or low-income housing. A number of posts on Facebook detailed problems with area public housing developments that are not 40R and expressed worry that the town would become a magnet for low-income housing.
After a particularly rancorous Planning Board hearing, town officials decided to hold the information session in an attempt to dispel rumors about how Chapter 40R works.
The state instituted 40R to incentivize developers to largely utilize existing structures to create market-rate housing that also provided a percentage of affordable housing units and space for retail or commerce. The statute provides certain incentives for developers — such as access to capital and lower predevelopment risk for permitting — while also giving municipalities funding, or "density bonus," to acknowledge the impact of increased housing and traffic.
Adams stands to gain up to $600,000 for adopting 40R and $3,000 per unit developed (Chapter 40S addresses school enrollment). Of the areas designated in the overlay — parts of Park Street, mills, schools, open space and other large structures — there is the potential for 629 units. However, the town would have to repay the amount should construction of units not be undertaken within three years. In contrast to 40B, which also incentivizes affordable housing but requires perpetuity, affordable units under 40R must remain so for at least 30 years.
At least 20 percent of the units must be considered affordable; the maximum is 40 percent unless local planning boards provide a waiver. The rest of the development would be market-rate housing.
Attorney Donald Dubendorf, speaking from his experience representing both developers and municipalities in land use, said zoning is "in the middle of that tension between the built environment and the natural environment and how we live together."
But the region's zoning hasn't always kept up with the changes in the way people work and live over the past 50 years.
"For many years in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, we have been unfriendly to change as it's reflected in the way we zone," he said. "It has consequences, and particularly acute in Berkshire County, because whether we like it or not ... we are as a population getting older, we are as a population getting fewer."
It's also a population in Adams that's getting poorer, Dubendorf continued, and he and other officials including 1Berkshire President Jonathan Butler said the town was poised to capitalize on the investments being made in North Adams and Pittsfield. Or let it pass them by.
"In my opinion right now we're losing. Right now, the town of Adams is losing," said Selectman John Duval. "We're behind the 8-ball because other communities see what I see every day at my place of employment — they are hiring hundreds of people and they are looking for decent housing."
There was a certain amount of disbelief on Duval's claims, but his employer General Dynamics has billboards up soliciting applications for "hundreds" of jobs. And if General Dynamics pulls back, Wayfair is coming into Pittsfield with 300 jobs.
Those starter jobs would put a lot of people into the "affordable housing" category, said town officials.
Affordable housing is not necessarily low income but rather is defined by the federal government as 80 percent of the median income for an area. For Adams, that's $49,700 for an individual and $70,950 for a family of four, based on the U.S. Census' American Community Survey figures. Affordable rent could not exceed 30 percent of the maximum income, which for a single individual would be $14,910 a year. Right now, affordable is considered about $843 a month for a one bedroom, and just over a $1,300 for a three-bedroom.
"We are talking in the town of Adams about our school teachers, our police officers when they're first hired, our Town Hall employees and our DPW employees," said Green. "Those are just the folks I know who qualify."
Quality density housing would appeal to young individuals or couples, people looking to downsize and those who can't afford or do not want a single-family home. Duval said Adams' housing stock is old and — according to business leaders invited to the community — "not good."
According to a 2018 report by the Citizens Housing and Planning Association, more than 15,000 units and 3,500 homes have been developed under 40R statewide, and almost half were considered affordable. Thirty-seven communities have created overlay zones and reported positive effects; nearly a dozen have defeated the zoning because of concerns over density, neighborhood impacts, traffic, control and other issues.
Residents in Adams raised many of those concerns, including the town's ability to absorb an influx of people and how the zoning change would affect their ability to utilize their own properties.
One resident, whose renovated mill is in one of the proposed Smart Growth Zones, asked if he would be forced to provide affordable housing if he added units. Green said no — the zoning change would "overlay" existing zoning, not change it.
A developer could proceed under the current zoning bylaws that may require special permits and variances or, in some communities, develop all-affordable projects under the state's 40B program if the municipality's affordable housing stock is less than 10 percent. But the difference is 40R gives communities much more control.
"Right now a developer could come in, under Massachusetts General Law 40B and develop the project, it could look identical to a 40R project, but the difference under that law, we have no say as a community, not even a planning board review," Green said. "So when 40R was developed, input that the Legislature took in order to get a community to develop it, is to add that level of review."
Butler said housing ties into the problems the region is having in developing a workforce for existing businesses and those considering coming to the area.
"Right now, we actually have a workforce shortage in the Berkshires and that's a problem for us in that if we can't find a way to solve that, that jeopardizes the stability of the existing employers that we have in the region," he said.
The solutions fall into long-term, complex initiatives of training and education, workforce recruitment and — housing. Housing for young professionals, housing for people being recruited to the area, housing for people already here, housing for people who don't want houses, and empty-nesters.
The session at the Visitors Center was well attended.
"In the Berkshires, right now we have a regional shortage of rental housing that's significant," Butler said. "There's demand for over 200 units of market rate housing, that's those younger professionals, empty-nesters with slightly higher incomes that are in a position to pay higher rents. And we actually can't even capture the affordable housing demand because it's so significant."
Butler's assertions were echoed on Thursday night by Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Michael Kennealy, who categorized the lack of good housing as a "crisis" within the state.
One gentleman said he has apartments but has had trouble getting good tenants for his properties in older homes. But a woman who sold her home on West Road said she never considered any other apartment than the Berkshire Mills. The former textile mill was transformed into mixed use more than 30 years ago and officials pointed to it as a good example of what 40R could achieve with current empty buildings.
Officials say more people in the town's core areas would increase vitality of the downtown, which would in turn attract more investment and housing, and aid in securing better quality tenants for currently empty apartments.
But if 40R is so great, why now? several residents asked, feeling that decision was a done deal that was being sprung on them at the last minute.
Dubendorf explained that the initial bill in 2004 wasn't very good but has been amended over the years to be more reflective of municipal and development priorities. Community Development Director Donna Cesan said Adams had considered the chapter in the past but it didn't seem to fit the town's needs. About two years ago, officials reviewed it again and saw where it could help spark development. The Planning Board began reviewing the zoning bylaw months ago.
Much of the argument against adopting 40R has focused on one particular project that hasn't even come before the Planning Board yet: the redevelopment of the old Waverly mill on Hoosac Street. Owner Jeffrey Cohen purchased the property five years ago with the vision of creating 150 workforce housing units.
Cohen is in the midst a $60 million redevelopment of the defunct Eagle Mills in Lee into more than 80 affordable and market-rate units, restaurants, offices and a hotel. Opponents to 40R are convinced that his proposal for affordable units at 7 Hoosac St. in Adams are a feint to push through Section 8 public housing — a scenario that's been passed around Facebook.
Officials on Tuesday were reluctant to discuss one project rather than the areas being considered for a 40R overlay. But Duval said Cohen had recently held a meeting with some town officials, the state senator and representatives, banking leaders and the CEO of General Dynamics about the mill's potential.
"They all said it was a viable project and all said their staff would be happy to live in that building," he said. "That's all I can say about that."
The meeting also briefly touched on the merits of putting the zoning bylaw before a special town meeting or a regular town meeting, weighing the pros and cons of each related to the town meeting member format.
The Planning Board will hold a hearing continuance on the zoning bylaw amendments on Monday at 7 p.m.
"It's a tool that's particularly appropriate for the town of Adams to consider," said Dubendorf. "Because this town needs to change just like all of us. Because if we don't use tools to to govern, that change, will change will happen to us. And it's not always positive."
iBerkshires.com welcomes critical, respectful dialogue; please keep comments focused on the issues and not on personalities. Profanity, obscenity, racist language and harassment are not allowed. iBerkshires reserves the right to ban commenters or remove commenting on any article at any time. Concerns may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
iBerkshires.com welcomes critical, respectful dialogue. Name-calling, personal attacks, libel, slander or foul language is not allowed. All comments are reviewed before posting and will be deleted or edited as necessary.
Several upper windows on the west side of the building facing Hoosac Street were shattered. Police responded to close off the area and a Department of Public Works crew was cleaning up the debris. No word of any injuries.
click for more
The possible inclusion of North Adams and Dalton would be especially convenient this year as both municipalities' solid waste contracts expire on June 30, the same date as the district's.
click for more
The 40R Smart Growth Overlay District would target certain areas for redevelopment into market rate and affordable housing with potential for commercial clients as well. However, the proposed adoption of the state measure created opposition among residents who fear it will negatively impact the... click for more
But Tuesday's more than two-hour meeting explaining step by step the statute, the definitions, and how a Smart Growth Overlay District would work seemed to tamp down some of the controversy.
click for more