Northampton Planning Board OKs affordable housing change for Emerson Way

  • The entrance to Emerson Way housing development off Burts Pit Road in Northampton, seen in 2014. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/Kevin Gutting

@BeraDunau
Published: 8/10/2018 9:09:40 AM

NORTHAMPTON — After significant discussion and debate, the Planning Board has voted to allow a plan to move affordable housing units from the Emerson Way development to a proposed all-affordable housing development off of Burts Pit Road to go forward.

Because only three voting members of the planning board were present the vote had to be unanimous, which it was. However, the two non-voting associate members also contributed much to the discussion.

The proposal would involve a partnership with the city, Habitat for Humanity and Emerson Way LLC, and would allow Emerson Way to have the affordable housing restriction on three of its lots removed. These lots, along with one other, were originally intended to house affordable housing duplexes built on them, although none have been built in the 15 years since the development was approved. Emerson Way LLC was not the original developer.

To make up for the loss of the six affordable housing units at Emerson Way, Emerson Way LLC would buy lots in the proposed Burts Bog development that Habitat for Humanity would then build single-family affordable houses on. This would mean that the six units that would have been in Emerson Way would instead join three other units that Habitat had already planned to build in Burts Bog. Emerson Way LLC would also pay for the design work on the site.

In arguing for the development, the case was made by consultant M.J. Adams that people in these affordable housing units might feel more comfortable alongside their economic peers, as opposed to living in a mixed-income development. This argument, however, did not go unchallenged.

“I don’t understand the moral underpinnings,” said Alan Verson, an associate member of the planning board. “I have a hard time thinking of a justification for this.”

It was also noted that even with this plan, there would still be a single affordable housing duplex at Emerson Way, whose inhabitants might stick out even more.

Richard Madowitz, the current developer of Emerson Way, argued the case for the deal repeatedly before the board, insisting that he was just asking the board to allow him to move forward and see if an agreement could be reached with Habitat for Humanity.

“Allow us to talk to Habitat,” he said.

However, the board also noted the significance of removing the restriction and their trepidation seemed to move Madowitz toward accept significant conditions on the change, which he was at first resistant to.

The board also noted that this deal would allow the three freed-up lots to be sold at market rate. However, Madowitz said that the Emerson Way project was underwater financially, and that building out all the affordable units would be a loss.

Aside from Madowitz, other members of the public also gave their input on the project, all of whom expressed their concern with the plan.

Roswell Angier, a resident of Emerson Way, said that one of the reasons why he had chosen to live at Emerson Way was because of its promised income diversity.

“That was a selling point for me,” he said.

Dan Petrozzi, who lives on Burts Pit Road, worried about this move setting a precedent for future developers to move their affordable housing commitments elsewhere.

“I think that it might be setting a precedent,” he said.

Joanne Campbell meanwhile, of Valley Community Development, also expressed her concern.

“Losing these units (at Emerson Way) to me is tragic,” she said.

Eventually the board chose to allow the plan to proceed, with even Verson coming around, seemingly on the argument that it would allow affordable housing units to be actually built. However, the board insisted on attaching strong provisions to its accession. Namely, one lot would be released from its restriction for every two building permits pulled by Habitat for humanity at the Burts Bog development, a status that would be further enshrined by a lot sale covenant. The Burts Bog development would also need to be amended as well for the project to go forward.

Madowitz also said he intends to meet with Burts Pit Road residents in the future.

The next step for the proposal will be presenting it before the Habitat for Humanity’s board.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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