Planning and Selectmen endorse/adopt Housing Production Plan

by beth on June 9, 2020

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Last night, the Planning Board and Board of Selectmen endorsed the five year plan to increase affordable housing options in Southborough. One of the main goals of the plan is “safe harbor” protection from undesirable 40B projects. But the plan also defines the Town’s goals for diversifying housing and lays out strategies to achieve them.

The 2020-2025 Housing Production Plan has a slew of recommendations, including changes to zoning bylaws, financial policies to reduce financial tax burdens for seniors, and subsidies to facilitate desirable projects. On Monday night, report author, consultant Roberta Cameron, explained to the boards that their endorsement isn’t a firm commitment to carry all rcommendations through.

Still, given that members from both boards lauded the plan, it’s reasonable to expect to see some strategies pop up in future Town Meeting Articles or even budget discussions. So, I’m sharing highlights.

But first. . .

In support of recommended policy and zoning changes, the report included constructive criticsm. Prior to Planning’s vote, member Meme Lutrell had issues with one of those comments. She questioned a statement under Housing Inventory:

Very little housing has been constructed in the past century that offers alternatives to high end single-family homeownership. This is the result of a deliberate effort to homogenize development through local zoning.

Consultant Courtney Starling defended that it referred to zoning requirements over time that required more land to build less. That has a tendency to lead to larger single family homes and homogenization. She acknowledged that there had been some efforts in regulations to diversify. But issues with regulations meant that they were ineffective in practice. She also pointed to the 66% of Town Meeting voters required to have enacted zoning changes, referring to some anti-development intent.

Lutrell rebutted that the effect of zoning doesn’t necessarily reflect the intent. Planning Chair Don Morris chimed in that he had passed on similar comments. But, he chose to focus on the plan’s present and future, rather than the history. Planning unanimously endorsed the plan.

After reviewing a state statute pointed to by Selectman Marty Healey, all agreed to request the Conservation Commission’s approval. That will happen before selectmen forward the plan to DHCD (the Mass Department of Housing and Community Development). With that plan clarified, selectmen adopted the plan 4-0.

The plan was put together by consultants Community Opportunities Group, Inc. working with SHOPC (Southborough Housing Opportunities Partnership Comittee). Groundwork included a 2020 community survey (with 250 responses), interviewed stakeholders throughout the community, and held a Senior Housing Needs forum in September 2015 (following up on the 2015-2020 plan adopted that February).

You can read the full plan here.

Rate of Affordable Housing Creation

Towards the end of the document (page 54), consultants describe the rate of deed-restricted affordable housing production needed to maintain “safe harbor” from unwanted 40B developments. It points out that if a controversial planned 40B project fails to overcome appeals, it will have a significant impact:

In order to ensure “safe harbor” in the short term, the Town needs to add 17-18 units to its SHI on an annual basis.

The Town has already approved a Comprehensive Permit for a multifamily development at Park Central, which would create 180 rental apartments. Currently under appeal, if this development moves forward it will bring the Town above the minimum 40B threshold for the foreseeable future. . . Without the Park Central project, the Town would likely need to identify alternative sites where a similar type of development would be appropriate in order to meet the Town’s affordable housing needs under Chapter 40B.

Again, the 40B protection isn’t the only thing Town officials are trying to achieve. The Exeutive Summary introduction highlights the community’s need for more affordable housing:

Nearly 900 of Southborough’s roughly 3,400 households today are cost-burdened (paying more than 30% of their income on housing). This includes 1/2 of Southborough’s renters and 1/4 of homeowners. Young adults (under age 35) have the highest rate of housing cost burden, while seniors are also disproportionately cost-burdened as many live on fixed-incomes.

Southborough’s Housing Goals

The summary also defines the Town’s six goals:

1. Provide housing options that attract families and enable older adults to remain in Southborough as their needs change
2. Reinforce Southborough’s economic goals by supporting local businesses through the provision of expanded housing choices that serves a diverse local workforce
3. Encourage alternative housing styles to single-family homes, such as townhouses, duplexes, and small apartment buildings in contextually appropriate locations to provide residents with a wider range of housing options
4. Maintain Southborough’s character by supporting the design of housing development that is compatible with and complementary to the Town’s architectural character and wooded landscapes.
5. Minimize impacts of new development on priority areas for open space, conservation, and natural resource protection purposes
6. Maintain and improve the condition of the Town’s housing stock and encourage high quality new construction

Implementation Strategies:

Below are key excerpts from four overarching strategies that include several recommended zoning changes.

1. Enhance local capacity to plan, advocate for, develop, and manage affordable housing units.

Strengthen and Expand Partnerships

several successful non-profit developers seek opportunities to develop affordable housing in suburban communities throughout Massachusetts and beyond, such as Habitat for Humanity, Neighborhood of Affordable Housing, Inc. (NOAH), The Community Builders (TCB), and SMOC. Compared with for-profit developers, non-profit housing organizations are generally able to provide a larger percentage of affordable units as well as more deeply affordable units, having access to a variety of housing subsidies.

Secure Funding to Support Affordable Housing

The Town may be able to increase the potential for successful partnerships through providing direct subsidies to create affordable housing. . . some communities choose to leverage housing funds to provide local matches for grants offered through the Commonwealth; MassWorks grants, for example, are more competitive with a local match and can be used to improve local infrastructure (including sewer, water, and complete streets improvements) to facilitate the development of affordable housing (among other land uses). . . Local funding could also be used to facilitate the conversion of existing homes to deed-restricted affordable units, to provide first-time homeownership programs, or other supportive services.

Having adopted the Community Preservation Act and established an Affordable Housing Trust, the Town has taken concrete steps to facilitate the funding of affordable housing initiatives such as these. However, the Trust has been largely inactive toward creating new affordable housing for several years, while the Community Preservation Committee has been holding funds earmarked for affordable housing in reserve.18 Re-activating the Housing Trust could help to put these resources to work.

Guide Development

The Town can encourage the development of affordable housing consistent with local land use goals by developing guidelines that articulate the Town’s preferences and priorities. Whether projects are developed under Chapter 40B or conventional zoning, proactively communicating what development outcomes the Town is looking for can enable a smoother permitting process by providing developers with guidance on what types housing and in which locations would be preferred.

Educate/Communicate with the Public

It is important for the public to be well informed about local housing needs, initiatives and challenges.

2. Identify sites for creation of affordable housing through new development, redevelopment, or preservation.

3. Update zoning to create opportunities for development of affordable housing, and to encourage diversity in housing options.

dimensional regulations, use restrictions, inclusionary requirements, and environmental regulations, in addition to high land and materials costs make it difficult to build diverse types of units. Fine-tuning the regulations pertaining to diverse forms of housing would facilitate more opportunities for providing needed housing alternatives, to accommodate more modest housing, or for walkable village character.

  • Strengthen inclusionary requirements.

Should the town be willing to reconsider the mandate that 1/3 of the units be single-family homes (which drive cost and inefficient land use), the preclusion against apartment buildings (with more than four units or common entrances) to allow for small-scale multi-family buildings built at a pedestrian-friendly village scale, and relaxing the base density requirements in certain zoning districts, or any combination of actions thereof, the quality and number of affordable units produced could be increased. . .

Removing the local preference mandate and restrictions precluding Low-and Extremely Low-Income households would be advisable.

  • Advance local historic preservation and housing objectives by providing a feasible permitting vehicle to allow for the Adaptive Reuse of Historic Structures for residential purposes.

while an existing lot and structure may be able to support multi-family use [under the Adaptive Reuse bylaw] given its size and configuration; in the majority of the town, there is a limit of one unit per acre, and as many of these structures are in older areas of town, typically located on smaller lots, the ability to actually utilize the bylaw to create any sort of meaningful project is limited at best. This issue could most easily be addressed by amending the bylaw to address maximum density based on the existing structure and septic capacity, rather than lot size. . . Modifying the bylaws to allow for this practice to continue once again would allow for the organic integration of new multifamily housing (albeit in old buildings) that has traditionally existed throughout the town, but can longer be built per regulation.

  • Revise Business Village zoning regulations to provide for Mixed-Use buildings including residential uses.
  • Remove barriers for the provision of true Senior Housing and provide greater ability to create “lifecycle” housing units.

Currently the regulations limit the number of household occupants – precluding roommates, caretakers, grandchildren, or other household members that could extend independent living. Such limitations should be removed. Further, the regulations encourage larger single-family homes and duplexes, but do not address nor incentivize accessible units, nor do they authorize apartment buildings that may offer elevators, public common areas, and covered hallways that allow for socializing and mobility, even in the winter. The physical design of buildings and neighborhoods matter, and some thought needs to be given to serving the needs of more advanced seniors. . . 

while there might be a rationale to limit the overall number of senior (55+) housing units.  . . a 7% limit is likely too severe when population projections indicate that one third of Southborough households will be over 65 years of age by 2030. Similarly, a 5% limit on accessory apartments is unenforceable as there is no record of how many of these units have been constructed since 1979.

  • Ensure that parking requirements are commensurate with the size and type of use.

The Town’s current requirement of three spaces per unit with three or more bedrooms and two spaces per unit with one or two bedrooms is very high. . . the Town could consider reducing the parking requirements to more commonly used standards that reflect usage and market demand, or adopting a waiver mechanism for some portion of required parking if supported by a Transportation Demand Management Plan.

4. Assist Southborough residents to obtain or maintain housing that they can afford.

Reduce the Property Tax Burden for low income seniors.

While the amount of the tax abatement is small compared with property tax bills, the Senior Tax Deferral (Clause 41A) can enable seniors to defer up to 100% of their property tax payment until the property is sold or the applicant dies. . . Southborough currently allows participants with incomes up to $40,000 to defer their taxes at a 4% interest rate. As of 2020, several higher-cost communities have set income limits above $80,000 for tax deferral, with interest rates as low as 2%. . .

amending the zoning to create opportunities for improved commercial development or more diverse housing styles can help to offset the tax burden on single-family residences.

Assist first time homebuyers to overcome cost barriers.

With funding through the Housing Trust, down-payment assistance could be provided to income-qualified households. Alternatively, the Town could also establish a “buydown” program, where the Trust subsidizes the cost to purchase a house for an income-qualified buyer in exchange for obtaining a long-term or permanent affordability deed restriction.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Switch-a-Roo June 10, 2020 at 1:46 AM

Isn’t it ironic how the controversial Park Central project benefits from two attorneys in court? With town counsel seated next to developers attorney in the courtroom. Paid for by your tax dollars. Both attorneys currently crybaby and whine about how much the town needs affordable housing, and this developer is bringing much needed 40b housing to the town. This is the same developer and attorney who tanked their 40b affordable housing on Oregon Road in recent years, switching it from “much needed” 40b affordable housing to full market rate housing, approved by the then ZBA (led by Attorney Tom Bhisitkul, now on Advisory) late one night after most of the public had gone home. See the Minutes and YouTube video. Tom Bhisitkul (who later recuses himself from the controversial Park Central project, filing a conflict of interest form) asks developers counsel if anyone appealed the Oregon Road 40b. Attorney Catanzaro (see the Mass Board of Overseers website for his public admonishment by the BBO under his name; this is who Town Counsel joins in court on your taxpayer dollars on Park Central) says no and the ZBA approves the controversial switch as “no substantial change.” This is after getting approvals for favorable conditions and setbacks that applied to the 40b affordable housing.

Why was there no appeal? Because the town residents thought they were getting affordable housing as promised ! by the town and the developer. The citizens were in favor of affordable housing in that location. Fast forward: Now the crybabies are at it again right now, and have forgotten to mention they had the opportunity to provide the town with affordable housing just a few years ago on Oregon Road and actually chose to not do so, going full market rate. All with the help of the Town, the then ZBA. File under ironic “Switch-a-roo.” Now this housing plan language has the gall to include the questionable language called out as objectionable by Planning Board members? Who drafted that poor and misleading conclusory language? What is the legal purpose of that deceptive language? It leads one to a false conclusion as rightly called out by Planning Board and needs to be changed to protect the town against the double entendre and two faced, self serving interests. What gall to claim “Anti-developer sentiment?” Go check out the ZBA minutes and tapes. Simply unbelievable.

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2 beth June 10, 2020 at 8:25 AM

To be clear, I didn’t interpret the section about Park Central as endorsing Park Central. Rather it was an analysis of the production levels and what would be required if Park Central doesn’t go through.

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3 Matthew June 10, 2020 at 9:43 AM

So Housings goal number 3 seems to indicate that the 55+ eyesore at one end of Parkerville isn’t’ the going to be duplicated at the other end. Sorry I don’t pay more in taxes…

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4 let them eat cake! June 11, 2020 at 5:20 PM

The other end of Parkerville Road has its own eyesore – the fake Versailles abomination – the project that will never end. Wait til the developer comes back to the Town and says he needs more money to complete it!

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5 Kelly Roney June 12, 2020 at 4:54 PM

What the developer spends on the Burnett-Garfield house is up to him. Southborough bought a development restriction. He’d have to offer something more to get more money. It’s not our project. It can’t have a cost overrun for us.

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6 Fred M June 12, 2020 at 7:29 AM

You are misunderstanding the senior housing notes. Goal number 3 states the 7% senior housing limit is too restrictive for our aging population.

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7 Do the Math June 10, 2020 at 10:17 AM

Do the math? Would the amount of units at Oregon Road (aka Stonebrook Village) have been enough to have had the Town protected under “Safe Harbor” law for some period of time, if it proceeded as affordable housing as originally promised by the developer and the Town?

Check out this article July 28,2011:
“BUILDER DROPS 40B STONEBROOK VILLAGE PLANS IN SOUTHBOROUGH
https://www.metrowestdailynews.com/article/20110728/NEWS/307289226

Then, see October 2013 and see the following article:
“INACTION BY SOUTHBOROUGH LEADS TO 40B CONTROVERSY”
https://www.metrowestdailynews.com/article/20131001/NEWS/310019898

“A proposed affordable housing project on Rte. 9 that neighbors have decried as unsafe might have been avoided if the town properly filed paperwork with the State back in January. . .”

If the proposed Oregon Road project went as originally promised by the developer, as 40B affordable housing, would that have put the Town over its Safe Harbor limit for some period of time? Also, then Madison Place rolls along, which was approved, and would also have qualified the Town for Safe Harbor.

In the above October 1, 2013 “INACTION” article, look at the number of town officials scratching their heads.

After the town is denied Safe Harbor, the developer of the Stonebrook / Oregon Road project went and applied for a Comprehensive Permit for Park Central in February 2014.

Why was the Safe Harbor ball dropped? It certainly played to the advantage of the developer. The above article cites “anti-developer intent. . .” (as loaded or innocuous as that statement may be interpreted). And if you want to check ZBA minutes, good luck! Unlike BOS and other boards and committees, many ZBA minutes are not publicly posted and only are posted starting in 2014. Can someone post the darn minutes please, like other boards and committees, which are public record.
Who’s zooming who?

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8 My Two Cents June 11, 2020 at 2:49 PM

Why the push for additional housing and multi-use now? Has anyone heard that due to the pandemic many offices, retailers and restaurants are potentially not coming back? Stimulus money is holding up many markets and potentially the housing market at this point. What happens when the stimulus stops and there is a historic level of unemployment? Shouldn’t we be looking at making use of the vacant buildings and residences that will be upcoming as opposed to creating short cuts for new ones? Did I hear we paid for an attorney for the EDC during a pandemic to promote new multi-use downtown? Glad there’s an extra 50k laying around for what seems to be poor use of resources in this economy. Companies are scaling back operating expenses but the town isn’t concerned about the checkbook I guess. This should be a discussion that happens when things clear up and people can weigh in, not on a muted zoom call that nobody has the capacity for at this point,

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9 beth June 11, 2020 at 3:46 PM

It’s worth noting that the Town is required to file a plan. The old plan expired in March and the new plan is really based on pre-pandemic work. Perhaps if the work on the report started now, there would be some differences in outlook/strategy based on economic uncertainty. But overall, the Town is required to look at how to meet the affordable housing numbers. And given the economic downturn, affordable residential options may be even more in demand for our community. Again, the Town won’t necessarily employ all of the strategies recommended.

As for whether or not multi-use makes sense, I won’t opine.

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10 Do the Math June 11, 2020 at 4:54 PM

“. . .given the economic downturn, affordable residential options may be even more in demand in our community. . . ”

This is exactly what greedy developers want to hear. The town will need to proceed with caution given its own fumbles and apparent lack of accountability on Safe Harbor.

In this state, many communities face challenges with unscrupulous developers, predators on taxpayers and other people’s money. So caution is always the order of the day.

This town would have been more ready with more affordable units if it made good on the affordable units on Oregon Road that it promised to the citizens. Anti-developer? It is the developers (with the help of the town) who are anti-development, anti-affordable, i.e. for max profit, when they switch from “affordable” to “market rate.”

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