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Zoning change to promote affordable housing in Southampton topic of hearing Wednesday

The inclusionary zoning bylaw jointly proposed by the Housing Authority and Planning Board would create incentives for developers to include affordable units in any developments of more than five units or 15,000 square feet.

Housing Authority Chairman Vijay V. Dalal said Tuesday that affordable housing is “almost nonexistent” in Southampton.

“We have 44 units, and that’s been the case for maybe 20 years. The percentage of affordable housing is going down because the number of houses being built is going up,” he said.

Southampton’s subsidized housing makes up 1.9 percent of the town’s housing stock, compared to the state’s goal for communities at 10 percent, according to state Department of Housing and Community Development. The federal government defines affordable housing as that rented or bought by households making less than 80 percent of the area median income. In Southampton, that would mean families with an income of less than $56,160.

A 2012 Housing Needs Assessment completed by the Housing Authority and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission found that living in Southampton was not an option for most adults in their 20s and elderly people because of the cost of housing.

“The intent here is to make Southampton more affordable for our parents and our children and to increase diversity,” Dalal said.

As proposed, the change would offer incentives to developers building apartment complexes, subdivisions and other developments as long as they make 10 percent of either units or square-footage affordable, Dalal said. Developers that do so can increase density because they are allowed to reduce lot sizes to 80 percent of normal and add two market-rate units per affordable unit added, up to 50 percent of the original property yield. They can also get waivers for zoning or subdivision regulations and filing fees.

Planning Board member Paul Diemand said another provision of the bylaw would require developers who opt not to include affordable units to donate land or money to the town to be used to develop affordable housing.

The inclusionary zoning bylaw would apply to all four of the town’s zoning districts where residences are allowed, Diemand said.

Dalal said that in addition to allowing more low- or moderate-income people to move to Southampton, the zoning change could help the town make some progress toward the state’s 10 percent affordable housing goal. Under the state’s Chapter 40B law, unless a community can prove it is making progress, developers of affordable housing can obtain comprehensive permits that bypass zoning and limit town oversight.

“This could give us a little leverage if there’s any 40B project that is not friendly,” he said, referring to any development that the town would not favor.

The zoning bylaw still needs to be presented to and approved by the Select Board and OK’d by a two-thirds majority at Town Meeting.

“It’s all up for debate,” Diemand said.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

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