Our View: Strategies Needed For Kent’s Point

by The Cape Cod Chronicle

CHATHAM – Despite lobbying by neighbors, the affordable housing trust fund board declined to put a cap on the number of units that could be built in two planned affordable housing developments.

The town is getting ready to solicit proposals from developers interested in building affordable and attainable housing at the Buckley property in West Chatham and on land off Meetinghouse Road in South Chatham. While the notice approved by the trust board last Wednesday sets a minimum number of units for each property, no top limit was set.

Several neighbors said that leaving the maximum number of units up to a developer would result in density that was too high for the parcels.

“This is not in line with what the public wants,” said Gloria Hicks, a neighbor of the Meetinghouse Road property. During recent forums on the projects, some residents expressed concern that allowing too many housing units on the properties would lead to an unacceptable density that would not be in keeping with the community.

“You heard but you didn’t listen,” Hicks told trust board members last week. “Your actions are shortsighted and naive to think this will not affect future proposals and endeavors.” Failure to include a cap on the number of units in the requests for proposals is a “deliberate action” by the trust board to ensure that the resulting projects are as dense as possible and a dismissal of the concerns of residents, she charged.

Trust board members defended their unanimous approval of the requests for proposals (RFPs) with a minimum but not a maximum number of units for each development. Imposing too low a cap could mean a developer would have to seek a financial subsidy from the town in order to make the project feasible, said chair Michael Schell. The board wants to give developers as much creativity as possible in crafting responses to the request for proposals, he said.

By including a maximum, “you lessen the amount of people who will respond,” added board member David Oppenheim.

The trust board understands that residents are concerned with density, Schell said. “That will inform everything we do when we’re looking at responses to these RFPs,” he said.

The document instructs developers to include a minimum of 36 units on the three-acre Buckley property and 35 units on the 3.5-acre Meetinghouse Road land.

South Chatham resident Carol Gordon questioned the open-endedness of the RFPs.

“People don’t understand why there can’t be a maximum,” she said. “If we have a minimum, why can’t we cap it?”

David Farrell, also of South Chatham, said if there is no maximum, developers will “go way over 35” units. “And I just think that kind of density is inappropriate to that area.” Officials have a responsibility to stakeholders to set a maximum. “It should not be filled up as much as possible,” he said.

“The idea is that we cover the waterfront and that we maximize the response, the breadth and comprehensiveness of responses to these RFPs,” said Schell, “so we get the widest choice coming back to us.”

The RFPs include numerous other stipulations. On the Buckley land, a minimum of 68 percent of the units must be available to applicants earning up to 100 percent of the area median income (AIM) for Barnstable County, with the remaining 32 percent for those who earn up to 120 percent of AIM. Units above 120 percent of AIM would be acceptable with an explanation and justification.

For the Meetinghouse Road development, all units must be affordable, available to those making at or below 100 percent of AIM.

Both documents call for a mix of building types with architecture that is consistent with the “historical design and character of the Chatham.” “Mid-density” projects are encouraged, including outdoor amenities, and developers are urged to use their “creativity and experience in building design, massing, site layout, parking, landscaping.” Accessibility and compatibility with the community are also stressed. Copies of the draft RPFs can be found in the document section of the online public notice for the Feb. 7 meeting.

The select board was scheduled to discuss the proposals Tuesday, after The Chronicle’s deadline. Once finalized, Housing and Sustainability Director Gloria McPherson said the documents would be posted publicly and published in the Central Register on Feb. 22. Developers will have six to eight weeks to submit proposals. The RPFs will also be distributed to several local affordable housing agencies and developers, including Community Builders, the Housing Assistance Corporation, Community Development Partnership and Habitat for Humanity.