Committee, Consultants Diverge On Governor Prence Recs

by Ryan Bray
A committee tasked with reviewing proposals for the development of the Governor Prence Inn favors a plan prepared for the property by Pennrose. But the committee’s consultants told the select board last week that a joint application from Preservation of Affordable Housing, Housing Assistance Corporation and Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod offers more benefits to the town.  FILE PHOTO A committee tasked with reviewing proposals for the development of the Governor Prence Inn favors a plan prepared for the property by Pennrose. But the committee’s consultants told the select board last week that a joint application from Preservation of Affordable Housing, Housing Assistance Corporation and Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod offers more benefits to the town. FILE PHOTO

ORLEANS – Consultant recommendations on two proposals submitted for the redevelopment of the former Governor Prence Inn property stand in contrast to that of the committee charged with reviewing the proposals.

The six-member committee supports a proposal by Pennrose, citing it as the plan that presents the most economic benefit for the town. But the two consultants hired to work with the committee last week voiced their preference for a joint proposal from Preservation of Affordable Housing, Housing Assistance Corporation and Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod.

“Originally I thought a lot of people on that committee thought similarly,” said Joy Cuming, the architectural consultant tapped to help the committee in reviewing the two proposals.

But Cuming and Emily Achtenberg, the financial consultant that worked with the committee, said that the committee placed too much emphasis on economics and financials, even though town officials said those details are still very much up in the air.

“The committee got very hung up in my opinion on this issue of price,” Achtenberg told the select board April 24.

The town purchased the inn property in 2021 for $2.9 million. In addition to town money, funding from the affordable housing trust fund was also used in the purchase.

During a joint meeting of the select board and the affordable housing trust fund board in March, George Meservey, the town’s director of planning and community development who sits on the review committee, said that while the more creative of the two proposals, the POAH plan presented more risk to the town. He also noted that while Pennrose offered the town $1.5 million as part of its proposal, POAH’s plan calls for a $3.7 million subsidy from the town, making for a cost differential of more than $5 million.

Neither proposal was presented at the March joint meeting, and town officials, including select board members who said they had not yet seen either plan, called for specifics of the two proposals to be made public.

Both applicants presented their proposals during a meeting held at town hall April 5. POAH’s plan calls for the development of a variety of housing with buildings of different designs, size and affordability throughout the 5.5-acre site. Paul Attemann of the Providence-based firm Union Studio Architecture and Community Design said the proposal follows a village center concept, with buildings fronting Route 6A and designs that “maintain a New England maritime character that’s important to the region.”

“They thought about what was written in the RFP regarding diversity, not only in terms of income levels, but the forms of the buildings that they brought to the site,” Cuming told the select board April 24.

Pennrose is developing the new 62-unit affordable housing project at the former Cape Cod Five headquarters on West Road. The company’s Rio Sachetti said April 5 that the Governor Prence project represents an opportunity for the company to further its relationship with the town.

“In Orleans, it’s been a fantastic community for us to work in,” he said. “You guys understand the need for affordable housing. You understand the mechanisms through which they get built.”

The Pennrose proposal calls for 13 buildings spread across the property, including a community building. But Cuming on April 24 was critical of the plan’s more homogenous design compared to the variety of housing options presented in the POAH plan.

“They had dormers and they had elements, but there was no really strong differentiation between these buildings and what they did,” she said. “They did address the site, they did create some nice public spaces. But the buildings themselves were all scaled similarly.”

Achtenberg said that the POAH proposal offers “more aggregate benefits'' to the town, including 17 units that would be earmarked for homeownership. Ten of those units would be developed by Housing Assistance Corporation through MassHousing’s Commonwealth Builder program, which allows for the creation of affordable units for owners who earn up to 120 percent of the area median income.

Achtenberg cautioned that the program hasn’t yet been funded, though she said it likely will be if and when the state’s housing bond bill passes this spring or summer. But while the uncertainty of the funding poses some risk, she said the town could pivot to an all-rental proposal if it needs to this fall, when low income tax credits will be applied for for the project.

“Which I thought was a great option, because it covered all the bases,” she said. “You try for homeownership, and if it doesn’t seem like the funding or the designation was going to be there you could convert to a rental proposal. It would not cost the town any more, and in fact it would cost the state about a million dollars less.”

Alan McClennen, who serves on the review committee and chairs the affordable trust fund board, told the select board during public comment April 24 that based on his own additional research, the cost differential between the two projects could be as much as $10 million in favor of the Pennrose plan. He presented a packet with charts and other information related to both proposals to select board members.

“Because of my additional research, I believe even more strongly that Pennrose is the most responsible choice [for] both fiscal and design reasons,” he said, adding that the proposal would get the town about halfway toward its goal of creating 150 new units of affordable housing over the next decade.

But uncertainty around funding hovers over both projects, Town Manager Kim Newman told the select board last week.

As the town’s chief procurement officer, Newman will have the final say over which proposal the town moves forward with. She asked for the select board’s input on both proposals, but stressed that the focus should extend “beyond the financials.”

“There’s no debate about whether or not these are great proposals,” she said. “The confusion comes from the fact that both of their proposals rely on pieces that cannot be confirmed at this moment, because they’re based upon programs or awards that have not been approved yet or have not been used that way in the past.”

McClennen said the review committee was unanimous in support of the Pennrose project. But Select board chair Michael Herman, who served on the review committee, said he felt the POAH plan is more in line with the town’s vision for the property.

“We asked our proposers to come up with creative, out-of-the-box options,” he said. “And in my opinion, of the two proposals, I strongly believe that the POAH/HAC/Habitat proposal best exemplifies the town’s goals and wishes.”

Mefford Runyon of the select board agreed, calling the POAH plan “aesthetically superior.”

“I also like the homeownership component in it,” he said.

Kevin Galligan, who also represented the select board on the review committee, said the process was further complicated by revised submissions by Pennrose that came in based on committee comments after the November RFP deadline.

“We have got to go back to what the proposers provided. That’s it,” he said. Newman said she will not consider the revised submissions in her decision.

Others in attendance April 24 also took the opportunity to comment on the proposals as well as the review process. John Sargent, who chaired the town’s Governor Prence planning committee, said that group placed an emphasis on an attractive design as well as options for both affordable and attainable housing for members of the local workforce.

“Affordable is wonderful, but most of these people are beyond that threshold,” he said.

Sargent said the POAH plan offers “a much more attractive design” than Pennrose, as well as “a sense of community” and the opportunity for homeownership.

Hadley Luddy, CEO of the Homeless Prevention Council, echoed the need for workforce housing, saying the largest growing demographic in need of housing help are those between the ages of 25 and 54.

Orleans resident Neal Ahern was critical of what he saw as the town’s exclusive process in planning for the Prence property. He said there have been too few voices in the decision making.

“While it is true you are the co-owners of the property, the select board and the affordable housing trust, it is also true that all of town bought that property,” he said. Ahern particularly raised concern with McClennen’s vocal support for the Pennrose project, which he said creates a perception of bias in the process.

Ahern also spoke in favor of the POAH proposal because of the applicants’ local ties to the community.

“I believe the best interests of our community are in the hands of those we see everyday,” he said.

With more and more young people being forced off Cape due to a lack of affordable housing, the town should move swiftly toward bringing housing to the Prence site, said Samantha Elliott. But town officials said while they recognize the urgency, there’s also a need to be thorough in moving ahead.

“The issue of speed versus doing it right — doing it right is more important than the speed,” Runyon said.

In an email, Newman said she was due to discuss her options with Town Counsel Michael Ford on Tuesday. She said she anticipates having a decision for the select board in time for the board’s May 8 meeting.

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