Senior housing project encounters bylaw snag

  • Hadley Town Hall  GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Monday, October 09, 2017

HADLEY — The lone senior housing project being developed under a bylaw that allows homes for people 55 and over to be built on a single property is facing complications after its developer encountered challenges over ensuring some of the homes will be affordable.

Barry Roberts of Amherst is developing the East Street Commons at 54-56 East St., adjacent to the Norwottuck Rail Trail and across from the entrance to Burke Way. Roberts and his attorney, Thomas Reidy of Bacon Wilson PC in Amherst, are seeking assistance from the Planning Board so that the project isn’t delayed.

Roberts broke ground on the 32-unit project in the summer of 2016. Each home is expected to sell for between $350,000 to $400,000. The bylaw requires 15 percent, or five of the homes, to be affordable and become part of the town’s Subsidized Housing Inventory.

Planning Board Clerk William Dwyer said that Roberts, the only developer to use the senior housing bylaw adopted by Town Meeting in 2008, is identifying difficulties with its language.

“The problem is, it turns out much more complex than we understood to certify eligibility for the purchase of affordable property,” Dwyer said.

The bylaw calls for the Hadley Housing Authority to administer the program by certifying the sale of affordable homes, but officials there informed Roberts that it can only do that for rental apartments, not condominiums.

And while the town’s inclusionary bylaw that covers projects with nine or more homes offers an alternative — to make a payment to the town in lieu of providing the affordable units — the senior housing bylaw doesn’t have a similar clause.

The simplest solution, Dwyer said, may be to have Hadley voters establish an Affordable Housing Trust Fund under the Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 44, Section 55C, so there is a place for the funds to be held, and then ask Town Meeting to amend the senior housing bylaw.

Since that solution can’t be presented to voters until annual Town Meeting next May, Dwyer said it is possible that planners will encourage the Zoning Board of Appeals to issue a variance to Roberts so he can make a cash payment, rather than selling homes at below market rate. That would avoid slowing down his project’s progression.

But Dwyer said planners haven’t yet come to consensus on the best approach, short term or long term.

“We’re trying to work out something the developer can live with, the town can live with and the Planning Board can live with,” Dwyer said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com