WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Developers looking to build mixed income housing at the site of the former Grange Hall on Water Street have again modified their plans, this time lowering the number of units to 21.
Architect Hicks Stone was before the board of the town's Affordable Housing Trust on Wednesday to explain the latest incarnation of the development he is proposing along with partner Bill Freeman.
The first time the idea was pitched to the trustees, in June, the developers were talking about 22 units. Last month, they said they had found a way to get 28 units on the 6.6-acre parcel.
"As a result of some observations from the public, We've pared back," Stone told the trustees. "We currently show eight two-family cottages and five condominium units in the existing two-story Grange Hall."
The June iteration placed all the housing in 11 newly erected, pre-fabricated duplexes. July's plan called for 12 duplexes and four condos in the existing Grange building.
This time around, Stone and Freeman are proposing just eight new duplexes and more units in the existing structure, which now would include a studio apartment.
With the lower number of total units comes a reduction in the number that would be designated as affordable, or income-restricted housing. Stone said the pair now plan five affordable units — two in the duplexes and three among the five Grange Hall condos. In July, they were planning for seven out of the 28 units to be designated affordable by the state.
The percentage of affordable units is about the same, and that percentage determines whether the development is eligible for low-income housing tax credits.
Another piece of the developers' application to the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development for those tax credits is a letter of support from a local authority, and that is what brought Stone back to the AHT board on Wednesday evening.
Before voting unanimously to grant such a letter, members of the board sought information from Stone about how the project would be phased and how long-term affordability would be ensured for the owner-occupied units.
They also asked Stone about the mix of units in the Grange Hall itself, where Stone was proposing to have the affordability designated for two one-bedroom condo and the studio while having the market rate designation for a two-bedroom condo.
Trustees were concerned about the appearance of having the larger units of the apartments available to those paying market rates.
"The mix is somewhat arbitrary," Stone said. "If you want to drop a two-bedroom, two-bath to the affordable and have me bring a one-bedroom, one-bath to market rate, that's fine with me. Any combination is acceptable."
He agreed to send a revised proposal to the board after the meeting reflecting the changes so that the body's letter of support could reflect the change.
The trust board did not comment on the issues of density and screening and stormwater management that likely will be topics if the project gets so far as an application to the Zoning Board of Appeals.
But longtime AHT board member Tom Sheldon praised Stone and Freeman for responding to some of the concerns raised at the last board meeting by scaling back the number of units in the plan.
"I'd like to commend Hicks for his flexibility," Sheldon said. "He listens and reacts, and I value that."
In other business on Wednesday, the board voted to authorize Chair Andy Hogeland, who fills the Select Board's seat on the trustees, to request that the Select Board allocate $70,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds to the trust.
The money would be used by the trust to replenish funds it has allocated to Berkshire Housing Development Corporation to distribute under the Williamstown Emergency Rental Assistance Program and Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program — both creations of the trustees in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the past, the town has replenished the AHT account — funded mostly with Community Preservation Act funds — with proceeds from 2020's Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. But, as Hogeland explained on Wednesday, while CARES Act funds were distributed by the town manager, ARPA funds are in the purview of the Select Board.
Finally, board member Cheryl Shanks informed her colleagues that Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity is considering a merger with Pittsfield-based Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity.
The potential change in structure for the local branch of the national non-profit is of particular interest to the trustees because of the trust's partnership with Northern Berkshire Habitat on a number of ongoing projects.
The North Adams-based non-profit currently is building the second of two single-family homes on a parcel at the corner of Cole Avenue and Maple Street that the AHT acquired in 2015.
The same request for proposals that led to the partnership with NBHFH on the Cole and Maple property also included a second parcel the trust owns on Summer Street. And Northern Berkshire Habitat's response to that RFP indicated its intent to build two homes on the Summer Street lot.
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