New Housing Project submits plans – 40B project review to get underway
By Gregory T. Federspiel
Strategic Land Ventures, a Needham based development company, has submitted plans for a proposed apartment complex across from Atwater Avenue on Upper School Street. The proposal comes to us under the state’s Local Initiative Program of Mass. General Law Chapter 40B, commonly referred to as a friendly 40B proposal. The developer seeks to garner town support for the project before beginning the formal review process both at the state and local level. The submitted plans and studies related to the project conducted by the developer can be found on the Town’s web site under “40B Project.”
MGL 40B allows developers to propose housing projects in a community that exceed normal zoning regulations in the number of units proposed and in other local restrictions if that community does not have at least 10% of it housing stock designated as affordable or has other so called “safe harbors” that allow a community to deny a 40B project. Manchester has less than 5% of our housing designated as affordable; nor do we qualify for the other safe harbor provisions (substantial progress toward our housing production plan, a minimum of 1.5% of total lands devoted to affordable housing.)
Recent town planning efforts have put a spotlight on the need for more diverse housing in town, not only for those who do not have high incomes (which include many of our town and school employees) but also for empty nesters and retirees looking to downsize while staying in the community. Surveys of town residents have shown strong support for greater housing diversity. Rental housing has been identified in our housing production plan as being in short supply. Currently some 30% of the dwelling units in town are rentals. This includes many single family homes and duplexes which are not in the affordable range for those of moderate or low income.
The proposal calls for the creation of 157 apartment units in an “H” shaped apartment complex. Resident parking is provided underneath the proposed four-story building. 80 one-bedroom units, 61 two-bedroom units and 16 three-bedroom units are planned. Most of the 23 acre parcel will remain forested. An on-site wastewater disposal system is being proposed. The developer seeks to connect to the Town water system.
Included in the developer’s submittals are studies analyzing the fiscal and traffic impacts on the town. Their fiscal impact study shows a net positive impact from the $42 million project. They calculate, using today’s tax property rate and excise taxes on cars, paying over $600,000 annually to the town. Added costs to the town are projected to range from $279,000 to $491,000 depending on which method of calculating added school costs is used. The traffic impact study concludes School Street can handle the additional traffic without negative impacts. However, it notes the 128 ramps currently have low levels of service at peak hours (meaning wait times can exceed 35 seconds or more) and the project will likely add a fourth vehicle to the que of cars waiting to get onto School Street during the PM peak hour adding an estimated 25 vehicles to the current evening peak of 434 cars in an hour.
These are just a few highlights from the materials submitted by the project proponents. The complete submittals can be reviewed by going to the town web site. Over the course of the next few weeks the Selectmen will be asking various town boards and committees to provide their initial input regarding the proposal. The Selectmen will then host a public forum (likely late October) where the developer will be asked to present their proposal and walk through all the aspects of the project, from design, to community and natural resource impacts and mitigating measures. This initial presentation will be followed by review sessions the Selectmen will host during November through January as the details of the project are scrutinized with the goal of crafting a development agreement between the Town and the project proponent. The agreement typically details the agreed to scale and offsetting or mitigating measures the developer agrees to provide. With such an agreement in hand, the developer proceeds to secure state provisional approval for the project and moves onto the formal review and approval process that the Zoning Board of Appeals will undertake. If no development agreement is reached, the developer can still proceed but now the Town will need to argue its case before the ZBA and to the state should the developer not agree with the conditions the ZBA might impose through their permitting process. Ultimately the state has the final say in a project of this nature.
The public will have multiple opportunities for input. Board and committee reviews are open to the public as are the Selectmen forums and review sessions. The ZBA process also will be open to the public. All these meetings will be listed under on the Town’s web site.
This is a uniquely large project for the Town, and it will require careful review which will unfold over the course of the next few months. Learn more here.