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State bill to redefine 'affordable housing' to include mobile homes, in-law apt.s, etc. gets Belchertown backing

Cropped shot of a woman holding a miniature house

Cropped shot of a woman holding a miniature house

The bill, which is sponsored by State Rep. Susan Williams Gifford, R-Wareham, seeks to include inexpensive housing such as mobile homes, group homes, in-law apartments and any first-time buyer’s house that is covered by a state or federal assistance program. Members of the Belchertown Select Board said including such units would help the town reach the quota and give it more control over its own zoning and development.

Towns below the quota must accept developers plans that include affordable units even if they think the projects are not suitable.

Of Belchertown’s housing stock, 6.4 percent is considered affordable, said Select Board member Ken Elstein. “If the bill passes, we might go over the 10 percent.”

Pine Valley Plantation, an age-restricted mobile home community on Route 21 in Belchertown, has 390 units that could count toward the affordable housing quota if the bill passes, according to Elstein and town Planner Douglas Albertson.

Right now, the town is vulnerable, Elstein said.

“If a developer wants to put houses on 100 acres in town he can go ahead and put in a request. If the town doesn’t agree to it, and rejects it, the developer can instead present a plan with a certain percent of housing classified as ‘affordable.’

A court can then overrule the town’s decision to reject the plan.”

This type of zoning law evasion has been a problem in several towns across the state, including Sunderland. Last January, the Supreme Court overturned the town’s decision to deny Amherst developer Scott Nielsen a permit to build a 150 affordable housing complex on Plumtree Road.

“It enables developers to bypass town zoning laws, one of the most important parts of town government,” said Elstein.

Reaching the 10 percent quota would give the town the power to veto a developer’s proposal, regardless of how much affordable housing is included in the plan.

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