Deadline approaching for East Wareham affordable housing project decision

Aug 9, 2018

Developers of an affordable housing complex proposed for East Wareham were back before town officials on Wednesday with plans to address several concerns as a deadline decision looms.

Ultimately, officials from the Waltham-based Dakota Partners hope the public hearing, which has spanned for months, will close on Aug. 22 and the Zoning Board of Appeals will then make a decision. The board has until Aug. 27 to vote on a comprehensive permit, pending an extension.

“I expect on Aug. 22 – we would hope, I’m not trying to be premature – that would be the last hearing,” said Dakota Partners’ Attorney Peter Freeman. “We might have finished the review and have a plan that’s acceptable to everyone.”

Original plans called for constructing six, three- and four-story buildings at 3102 Cranberry Highway. Dubbed Woodland Cove, the development originally would have included 174 apartments. New plans call for building 150 apartments. The project has come under intense criticism from town officials and residents, saying the project will tax town resources, including sewer, water, police and schools with the additional residents.

Because the project is considered an affordable housing project, it enjoys protections under state law Chapter 40B. Under Chapter 40B, zoning regulations are curtailed for developers in towns where less than 10 percent of homes or apartments are considered affordable.

Rents for the affordable apartments must not exceed state guidelines based upon a renter’s income. In Wareham, 7.7 percent of residences are affordable. Officials estimate if the project were built it would add roughly 2 percent to the amount of affordable housing in town.

Because Woodland Cove is proposed under 40B, officials have little recourse to deny it a permit. However, board members are allowed to review the plans and make suggestions to mitigate impacts on traffic, sewer and water infrastructure before issuing a permit.

At a previous hearing, Zoning Board of Appeals members told developers to address several concerns in the design plans. Among them: creating an appropriate spot for school buses while picking up students from the development; including laundry and storage in each building; creating open space for gardens and indoor playrooms.

Town engineer Charles Rowley said the changes would benefit future tenants.

“I think there are better ways of doing things that will make this a much better environment for the people living there,” said Rowley.

Freeman noted some of those concerns were addressed, including bus stop accommodations. A pick up area will be placed on Red Brook Road complete with bus shelter. Developers noted that the school department is deciding whether or not buses will be driving onto the site.

Zoning Board of Appeals member Wilma Engerman estimated there would be at least 200 children living in the finished project and argued that bus considerations were important. She said the proposed changes weren’t adequate. Developers said Engerman’s estimate was too high.

Director of Planning & Community Development Ken Buckland agreed. He estimated there would be 80 children in Woodland Cove, based on research he did on other affordable housing projects in town.

Chair Nazih Elkallassi urged developers to review a landscape plan, mentioning that more trees should be added.

“There needs to be more shrubs, more design to it,” said Elkallassi. “You should consult with a landscape architect and do it a little better.”

Board members then reviewed a list of recommendations from Buckland, including a request to build the project within six years. Freeman disagreed.

“We don’t agree with that and legal regulations don’t require it,” said Freeman. He added that state tax credit regulations make that a difficult proposition.

“It could be seven or eight years,” said Dakota Partners Vice President of Development & Construction Jim O’Brien. “We’ll build it out slowly, but it’s based on the awarding of tax credits.”

Freeman and the developers agreed to review the additional changes recommended and will return before the Zoning Board of Appeals on Aug. 22. The continued public hearing is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in the Multi-Service Center, located at 48 Marion Road.