A concept of apartments of Longmeadow Way from 2016
Not with a bang but a whimper.
Harborlight Community Partner’s (HCP) proposal for an affordable housing apartment complex off Longmeadow Way along Bay Road appears dead on arrival after a community-wide wailing and gnashing of teeth for almost two years.
Its current failure also seals the fate of the proposed senior-only apartments on Willow Street in the downtown, which HCP planned to build if the family apartments could be developed at Longmeadow or another site in town.
The Affordable Housing Trust unanimously voted to table the funding agreement between the trust and Harborlight with a 3-0 unanimous vote at their May 8 meeting. Board Chairman Russ Tanzer recused himself as he is an abutter to the properties.
HCP Executive Director Andrew DeFranza said his organization’s control over the Longmeadow site was essentially moot as they now face a lawsuit not only from abutters, primarily spearheaded by other residents of Longmeadow Way and Ortins Road, but also owners of the site itself.
Although HCP could tolerate and fight one lawsuit, two simultaneous suits make the project unviable.
“The challenge that we have is there has been a change in some parameters in the business of this,” DeFranza said. “If you want us to do a project that’s economically viable, it’s not going to be 40 (apartments at Longmeadow Way).”
The funding agreement would have had the AHT offer $300,000 from their coffers for the project, as well as $300,000 from the Hamilton Development Corporation (HDC) to build 40 apartments at Longmeadow Way as well as 20 apartments, restricted to seniors, along Willow Street on a parcel owned by the HDC.
DeFranza said the owners of 3 and 5 Longmeadow Way threatened legal action regarding “the destiny of their site” but declined further comment. No other uses for a potential sale of their land had been outlined by Hamilton, Wenham, or the Hamilton-Wenham Regional School District following the year-long evaluation by the Longmeadow Study Committee. The front parcel of the Longmeadow site, 1 Longmeadow Way, would have been the site for the 40 family apartments.
Assessor records state 3 and 5 Longmeadow Way are owned by Kurt and Jacqueline Miller while 1 Longmeadow Way is owned by James and Linda Farnham.
A call to a number listed for 5 Longmeadow Way was not immediately returned.
DeFranza said HCP could still work with the town to develop a smaller, seven- to eight-apartment complex for families with some commercial space, but only with a significantly higher financial contribution from the town itself. Additionally, HCP would be willing to work with the
town to develop housing at the Longmeadow Way parcel, but only at a significantly higher concentration of units and other financial support.
Members of the AHT expressed disappointment over the loss of both proposed projects in town, especially after years of negotiations over size and locations.
“We’re going to be getting a small bang for the buck, if anything, at Willow Street,” said AHT member William Massoss. “We’re crying over spilled milk at this point as neither scenario is not preferable for the town.”
Nevertheless, the AHT did ask DeFranza if he could bring designs for the smaller Willow Street project to their next meeting in June. AHT Chairman Russ Tanzer said the trust should at least take pride in their efforts to develop a vetting program for affordable housing projects in town in the intervening years.
“Before this, there wasn’t a process to deal with (these projects),” he said. “The results are the results. This is a hard nut to crack.”
HCP started discussing plans to develop an affordable apartment complex at the tail end of Longmeadow Way with the AHT around the latter half of 2015. The initial proposal met with tentative support from the AHT, but abutters enraged by the proposal thrust both the AHT and HCP in to the limelight at Town Meeting in the spring of 2016.
Abutters argued the Longmeadow way project was both too large for the community and situated in the wrong location. The AHT worked with Harborlight to eventually whittle the project down to 40 units from the initial pitch of 108, but couldn’t locate another site in town without triggering a collective agita in other neighborhoods.
A citizen’s petition at annual Town Meeting in the spring of 2017 formed the Longmeadow Study Group to specifically study municipal or school uses for all three parcels at Longmeadow Way and report back at the annual 2018 Town Meeting.
The committee consisted of the members from both the towns of Hamilton and Wenham as well as the Regional School Committee. At the 2018 Town Meeting, the committee found no municipal uses for the land, while the Regional School Committee said they may have an interest in a possible elementary school. The committee and district ultimately took no further action over Longmeadow after their passing mention and vote of interest, however.
HCP specifically seeks to build their developments through the state’s Chapter 40B law.
Chapter 40B, a state law created in the late 1960s and commonly called the “anti-snob zoning law,” allows developers who set aside 25 percent of their housing stock as affordable to override certain local zoning bylaws or restrictions, if the host community doesn’t have at least 10 percent of its total housing classified by the state as affordable.
Hamilton is at 3 percent of said total, needing about 200 more units to reach its 10 percent goal. Wenham is around 8 percent.