More Info Sought On Governor Prence Proposals

by Ryan Bray
The Orleans Select Board has requested more information on two proposals to develop the former Governor Prence Inn property before casting its vote for a project developer.  FILE PHOTO The Orleans Select Board has requested more information on two proposals to develop the former Governor Prence Inn property before casting its vote for a project developer. FILE PHOTO

ORLEANS – A recommendation is in place for a developer to build affordable housing at the former Governor Prence Inn property. But the select board last week said it needs more information on the proposal before putting the matter to a vote.

The town received two bids in November to develop the 5.5-acre property on Route 6A, which the town purchased for $2.9 million in 2021. A committee charged with reviewing both proposals has since recommended that Pennrose be selected to develop the property. That recommendation was delivered to Town Manager Kim Newman on Feb. 22.

Pennrose, which is nearing the start of construction on another 62-unit housing development at the site of the former Cape Cod 5 headquarters on West Road, presented a proposal that “was the most highly advantageous” for the town, George Meservey, the town’s director of planning and development who sat on the RFP committee, said during a joint meeting of the select board and the affordable housing trust fund board March 19.

“Pennrose, as we looked at it, appeared to minimize risk and cost share to the town, and presented a plan that was consistent with the RFP and we thought was very positive,” he said.

The committee also considered a joint proposal from Preservation of Affordable Housing, Habitat for Humanity Cape Cod and Housing Assistance Corporation.

But some select board members lamented the fact that they had not been presented with any plans or information regarding either proposal ahead of the March 19 meeting. Board member Mark Mathison took issue with what he called a “deeply flawed” process of making information available to town officials and the public. That includes plans for a community center as part of one of the proposals, as well as some units that would be set aside for purchase instead of as affordable rentals.

“We owe the people in town a lot more than we’ve given them today,” he said.

The March 19 meeting did not go into the specifics of either proposal. But Meservey said both proposals were “of high quality and demonstrated thoughtful consideration of the town’s interests and intent in the RFP.”

Meservey said the POAH/Habitat/HAC proposal was the more creative of the two but presented “more risk” to the town. Specifically, while Pennrose offered $1.5 million for the property as part of its proposal, the joint proposal didn’t offer anything for the land. Instead, it asked for a $3.7 million subsidy from the town.

“We felt there was a higher risk to the town in this,” he said.

But without more information to consider, select board members said they were not comfortable voting to select a developer last week. Newman also said she needed more clarity about the project financials from a consultant tapped to assist the RFP committee in its review.

The choice between netting $1.5 million for the property and paying an additional $3.7 million represents a difference of more than $5 million, noted Alan McClennen, chair of the affordable housing trust fund board. But Newman said the consultant may have “missed a key portion of the analysis,” and that the difference may only be $900,000.

“Before I can make any decision, I need to feel like I’ve been able to ask my questions, particularly about the financials,” she said.

Mefford Runyon of the select board also expressed concern with taking action before looking at the proposals in more detail.

“I haven’t seen one element of these proposals on a piece of paper, and I can’t picture anything,” he said. “I haven’t seen sketches, I haven’t seen anything. I don’t think I can vote on anything without having that.”

McClennen said the public portion of the process is due to follow a joint vote from the select board and the trust fund board, who together own the property, to select a developer. Despite being a 40B project, which allows the developer to override local zoning, Pennrose plans to bring its proposal before the architectural review committee and the site plan review committee.

“This is a purchase of a piece of real estate,” McClennen said. “The followup once it happens is the public discussion of the design details and the site plan.”

Katie Wibby of the trust fund board also sat on the RFP committee. While she defended the process the committee undertook in reviewing both proposals, she made a motion to postpone any action on the committee’s recommendation until members of the both boards had the chance to review the proposals.

“We were under the impression that we had fully complied with the RFP process throughout this entire process,” she said. “I am actually shocked to hear that you are so disappointed. I appreciate you bringing your conflict to light, but I am very surprised. I am also surprised you haven’t seen the documents before today’s meeting.

Both boards unanimously voted to postpone any action on the matter pending receiving further information. That includes copies of both proposals without certain proprietary information that cannot be made public, proposal summaries and relevant financial information. Meservey said he would make those materials available to board members electronically.

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