February 9 2016

Selectmen Discuss Proposed 'Friendly 40B' Affordable Housing Projects, Ad Hoc Committee Report

By: Rich Hosford

The Burlington Board of Selectmen discussed two proposed “friendly 40B affordable housing” projects that recently were presented to an ad hoc committee created to evaluate their feasibility during Monday night’s meeting. 


One of the proposed projects is a 200-unit complex in The District, formerly known as New England Executive Park. The second is a 271-unit complex in Burlington Corporate Center. Both projects would have 25 percent affordable housing, meaning that all the units would apply to the town’s total affordable housing percentage. 


That percentage is important and the driving factor behind why the town is considering 40B projects. Under Massachusetts law, a town must have at least10 percent affordable housing in order to meet the 40B requirement. If a town falls below 10 percent, it loses a lot of the power it has if a developer comes in and wants to build an affordable housing project. The biggest concern raised at the meeting is that the town could lose a lot of the control it has as to where an affordable housing project might be built. 


Currently Burlington has 10.4 percent affordable housing though there is a fear the number will drop when the amount is re-evaluated during the 2020 Census. 


During the meeting the board members discussed the report from the ad hoc committee that reviewed the two projects. The committee was not formed to make a recommendation but to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the proposals. 


In its report the committee said The District site would likely appeal to young professionals and service sector employees though some seniors may like it due to the amenities in the office park. Some members also felt that it potentially provided residents who did not own vehicles more accessibility to employment centers and commercial services. 


They said the Corporate Center site would likely appeal more to seniors due to its “tranquil” location. It was also pointed out that timing was a factor due to the length of time it takes to get a project approved by both the state and the town and that The Davis Company, which owns Burlington Center, had already completed the necessary application and is ready to file. National Development, owner of The District, said it could be ready within two weeks of the selectmen’s endorsement. 


Selectman Dan Grattan said that because the Burlington Center proposal has more units, it would do more to help the town stay above 10 percent affordable housing, though he added The District said it could increase the number of units if the town wished. 


“The two sites both have elements that are favorable and neither are in an area that would be detrimental to any neighborhoods,” Chair of the Board Michael Runyan said. “I guess the key here is what number of units would be good for Burlington.”


Both Runyan and Grattan, who were on the ad hoc committee, also spoke about the need for affordable housing to help people move to or stay in Burlington and not just as a way to prevent a hostile 40B. 


“There are not many opportunities for seniors who have homes in town to find affordable housing,” Runyan said, speaking of people looking to sell their homes for something smaller and easier to manage. “So they stay in homes a little longer and find it difficult to maintain those homes, and the home value deteriorates. Then first-time buyers don’t have funds to purchase home and fix them up. [The homes] then fall in hands of developers who build places these groups can’t afford.” 


“Whatever we do, it might provide opportunity for someone to stay in Burlington or come to Burlington,” Grattan said. 


He also pointed out that there was nothing legally limiting the board from recommending both projects to the Board of Appeals, the body that approves any 40B projects. It was noted, however, that Town Meeting voted favorably on a resolution in January that said the body wanted the board to choose only one of the proposed projects. 


In the end the board said they would like to hear from the chair of the ad hoc committee and see the presentations on the two projects before taking any vote. 

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