Marceline Land Could Host 49 Affordable Rental Units

by Alan Pollock

HARWICH – In what chair Larry Ballantine heralded as a “great day,” the affordable housing trust gave its blessing last week to a conceptual plan that could allow around 49 units of affordable rental housing to be built on the southern part of the former Marceline property off Queen Anne Road near Route 124. The vote clears the way for the town to request proposals from potential developers.

“We’re moving something forward,” Ballantine said to a smattering of applause at the trust’s Feb. 29 meeting.

Having purchased the 12-acre tract at 456 Queen Anne Rd. with Community Preservation Act funds, the trust recruited help from the Massachusetts Housing Partnership to develop conceptual plans for building housing on the land. Presenting the plans, Partnership Director of Community Assistance Laura Shufelt said the property is divided by an unbuilt “paper” road, Bassett’s Lane, that separates the tract into northern and southern halves. State wastewater treatment standards limit the number of bedrooms allowed on either half to 90, and site designers worked to meet that standard.

“They anticipate three-story buildings for the majority of units, and then townhouses for some three-bedroom units mostly,” Shufelt said. Conceptual drawings for both the north and south tracts showed similar layouts, each with two three-story apartment buildings and three three-unit townhouses. In total, each tract could accommodate 49 units with a total of 90 bedrooms, accompanied by 77 parking spaces.

“I think the concept is to have it fit into the neighborhood as easily as we can,” Ballantine said. “No concrete and glass high-rises,” he said with a chuckle.

The neighborhood will be designed, built, financed and ultimately maintained by a private developer, and the conceptual plan is meant to guide potential developers who reply to the request for proposals the town is issuing.

“That doesn’t mean that’s what you’re going to get,” Shufelt said of the drawings. “That’s just a potential site plan.”

“It’s specific enough to give guidance,” select board liaison Julie Kavanagh said, but not so specific that it limits developers’ creativity.

“That was our intent all along,” Balllantine said.

“What’s exciting about it is there’s the potential of only using half of [the land] to really get what we need for the 90 [bedrooms], which is amazing,” Trustee Brendan Lowney said. That leaves flexibility for future uses of the other half, Trustee Claudia Williams added.

“Are there any creative things we can do that are more towards home ownership or open space?” she asked.

Access to the site could be from Pleasant Lake Avenue, Queen Anne Road or both, depending on which half of the site is developed. The road layouts should be chosen carefully to provide future access to unused parts of the site, Trustee Bob Spencer said.

“We should be mindful of having that set up in such a way that a road easement would be included in there that would allow traffic to come from the northern portion of the parcel and to come through,” he said. Because Route 124 is a state highway, it might be simpler to build access from Queen Anne, a town road, trustees observed.

Because the land was purchased with affordable housing funds through the Community Preservation Committee, the focus will be entirely on income-qualifying affordable rental units for tenants who earn up to 100 percent of the area median income (AMI). The majority of the units will be made available to those earning less than 80 percent of the AMI, since developers will be able to take advantage of low-income housing tax credits to finance the project, Shufelt said.

“And so you get a range of the very low income to the 100 percent median,” she said.

The developer will use the land under a 99-year lease from the town, and will be responsible for either serving as landlord and property manager or for hiring a third party to do so. Either arrangement works, Shufelt said.

In addition to the conceptual plans for developing the northern or southern half of the land, designers presented an option to develop both sides, and a fourth option that would have put 12 home ownership units on the northern parcel with rentals on the south side. Schufelt said this option is not one she recommends.

“There’s very little funding right now to subsidize affordable home ownership,” she said. “It’s really not financially feasible.”

As for developing the entire parcel now, Ballantine said it’s not wise.

“We need housing, but we can’t get greedy, either,” he said. “I think this is a reasonable size. Hopefully it won’t scare anyone.”

Shufelt said the location is good for a housing development, though it is not without challenges.

“There are going to be questions on traffic. That’s a busy road, always,” she said. Some sort of traffic mitigation will likely be included in the final plans.

“I think we have an existing intersection that needs work anyway, regardless of what we do,” Ballantine said. He suggested that the town recruit the Cape Cod Commission to conduct a traffic study for the site, even before final plans are proposed, “to try and get ahead of the public discussion.”

While the developer would likely be required to carry out a traffic study, peer-reviewed by the town, it would be politically wise for the study to happen sooner, he noted.

The trustees voted unanimously to pursue the plan to develop the southern half of the land, leaving the northern half for future discussion. That tract has the potential to be linked to adjacent town-owned land provided that the town can acquire a strip of land that is currently classified as owners unknown. Any taking of that property would likely take several years to complete.

Spencer thanked Shufelt for helping arrange the conceptual plans.

“We are incredibly grateful to you,” he said.

“This is the best part of my job,” Shufelt replied.

With the draft request for proposals approved by the trust, it was referred to the town’s procurement officers and attorneys for review, and was expected to be issued by April 10. Proposals from developers would be due around June 12, and a contract could be awarded as early as September.