by Connie Sartini
The Select Board and the Affordable Housing Trust conducted a virtual workshop on Monday night to discuss creating more affordable housing in Groton. Members of the Community Preservation Committee, the Housing Partnership and the Diversity Task Force also participated in the discussion.
Select Board member Becky Pine, in her position as Affordable Housing Task Force Chairman, led the discussion. She said that it is a Select Board goal to address the Housing Production Plan and increase the number of affordable housing units.
Pine explained what "affordable" means. She said, “Groton is a very desirable place to live. This means that people are willing to pay a lot of money to move here, so houses in Groton generally cost a lot. Most people like the idea of creating housing in Groton that is not so expensive. There may, or may not, be ways that town government could influence the market forces that combine to make housing in Groton expensive, but that is not the purview of the Affordable Housing Trust, or either of the other two other housing boards. The focus of the Affordable Housing Trust and the other housing boards is on creating and managing housing that is only available to people below certain income limits.”
According to the Housing Production Plan data, Groton has 3,930 year-round housing units, of which the state currently counts 222 units as affordable. Of the 222 units, 177 are rental units and 46 are ownership units.
Groton Needs 173 More Units To Meet Guidelines
To meet the 10 percent required minimum of affordable housing units, Groton will need an additional 173 units. Pine added that there were “only five units added in the past five years, and there were eight affordable units lost in the fire at Winthrop Place.”
Pine listed the town-owned lands that might be considered for affordable housing, but apparently all have multiple prohibitive issues:
1. 35 acres at Cow Pond Brook and Bridge Street
2. 10 acres at Hoyts Wharf Road
3. Land on either side of Fieldstone Drive
She noted that according to the Land Use Director Takashi Tada, all these sites fall within the NHESP (Natural Heritage and Endangered Species) polygon. There are additional issues with these sites as well.
14-Acre Parcel Under Consideration
After looking at other sites, Pine said, “The Affordable Housing Trust began exploring the Surrenden Reserve Parcel earlier this year. It is a flat, 14-acre parcel. It is town-owned and can only be used for recreation or affordable housing, per the Community Preservation Committee rules, as the CPC funds were used to purchase the site. “There are no wetlands and no protected species (on the land).”
However, there could be some significant costs associated with the road infrastructure to get to the site and with the sewerage and water on the site itself.
Agreement With Groton School Adds Costs
In December 2006, the then Board of Selectmen signed an agreement with Groton School that essentially prohibited any increase in traffic on Joy Lane and a portion of Shirley Road adjacent to the School. Access to this 14- acre parcel was originally over Joy Lane and a portion of Shirley Road. At that time it was felt that it could safely handle “the existing level of traffic”.
In this Agreement with Groton School, Selectmen agreed that access to the 14-acre parcel would be over the Surrenden Farm parcel, bypassing Groton School’s Joy Lane and Shirley Road properties.
This essentially means that the Town of Groton would be responsible for constructing and maintaining a road built to construction standards that would start at the turnoff from Farmers Row onto the Surrenden Farm conservation land, through the parking area, across conservation land until it meets up with Shirley Road, a large portion of which is a dirt road.
In addition the agreement requires that if the town’s Select Board “decided to use or allow use other than that of undeveloped land, the Board of Selectmen agree to initiate the process under Chapter 82 or the General Laws to discontinue the portion of Joy Land from Farmers Row to the intersection of Joy Lane and Shirley Road, and to relocate the discontinued portion of Joy Lane and Shirley Road across the Surrenden Road property (Parcel B) and to place an article on the Warrant at the next Annual or Special Town Meeting thereafter to complete the process and to authorize that the Town convey the discontinued portion of Joy Lane to Groton School.”
Moreover, Groton School wants the discontinuance of the portion of Joy Lane situated between Farmers Row and the intersection of Joy Lane and Shirley Road “that the Town shall convey the fee to this portion of Joy Lane and elect to prevent or restrict vehicular access.”
The agreement continues, “Should the Town Meeting not take favorable action on the article referenced above relative to the discontinuance of that portion of Joy Lane and the relocation of it to Parcel B, the Board of Selectmen shall reinitiate the requisite process under Chapter 82 at subsequent Town Meetings until a favorable vote is achieved, and shall refrain from allowing uses of the Reserve Area which will generate additional traffic until either a favorable vote is achieved or an alternative access to the property other than that which exists now is devised.”
Pine acknowledged that constructing a road would be expensive. She added that the Town of Ayer is open to talk about adding this project to their sewer, “but that it would take a vote at their Town Meeting.” She added that the Ayer abutters to the site were very opposed to the affordable housing proposal. “It would mean that we would need to bear the cost of sewerage treatment there and also to get water there.”
Need for Some Funding
Pine advised that as with people on all town boards, “There needs to be an exploration that requires expertise. We need to spend money to get some data. We could spend a lot of money on a project that turns out not to be viable.”
Select Board member John Giger suggested that a soil test be conducted to see if the land would support a septic field. CPC member Bruce Easom raised the issue from past building efforts where arsenic was found in the oils on the higher part of the land when the land and the field was considered for a housing development.
Selectman Josh Degen stressed, “Arsenic was extremely high on the site, but the reserve area was not part of this.” He added, “If the town issues an RFP and asks a developer to consider a ‘friendly 40B,’ the town would have no investment.”
Pine responded. “What we envisioned was use of state funding, an RFP with tax credits and to do what we need to do,we need to hire consultants to guide us.”
Select Board Chairman Alison Manugian suggested looking at other parcels across town, adding “I’d hate to get too far down the road if someone would come forward.” Pine noted that the cost of a building lot in Groton is $200,000 and asked, “Are we able to pay market rate for land for affordable housing?”
Groton Housing Coordinator Fran Stanley pointed out, “A ‘friendly’ 40B could work with a developer, allowing a developer to disregard local zoning.”
Manugian asked what are the next steps for the Affordable Housing Trust. Pine responded that there would be a preliminary application to the Community Preservation Committee for engineering and design. “We will be dependent on the CPC,” she said, and estimated that this could take up to six months.
Town Manager Haddad pointed out, “There is $500,000 in the CPC for housing. Some communities transfer funds to their Affordable Housing Trust. The money is this account is growing, growing, growing. We should transfer this every year. This would give you the tools that you need.” Haddad likened this to the CPC transferring money to the Conservation Commission fund.
Chairman Manugian suggested this was an interesting idea. She asked. “Is this just for the application of for an annual transfer?”
Pine closed by advising that the Affordable Housing Trust “needs to talk to the CPC and find out what they are willing to do.