Harborlight Pitches Affordable Housing in Wenham, Salem News, December 1, 2014

Harborlight pitches affordable housing in Wenham

By Dustin Luca Staff Writer | Posted: Sunday, November 30, 2014 10:20 pm

WENHAM ”  Beverly-based Harborlight Community Partners has proposed a 60-unit elderly affordable housing development on Maple Street in Wenham.

Harborlight already owns and operates assisted living, elderly and family housing throughout the North Shore.  The proposal before Wenham officials is a continuation of their mission of the past half-century, according to Harborlight executive director Andrew DeFranza.

We’re a local, North Shore nonprofit. We want to make sure there are houses here for people who are at risk,  DeFranza said.  

Maple Woods would be built under Mass. General Laws chapter 40B, which allows  developers to get around local zoning ordinances in communities that have fewer than 10 percent affordable housing.    

Wenham isn’t far from the threshold with 8.69 percent affordable housing as of this year’s census, according to Emilie Cademartori, Wenham’s zoning coordinator.

If approved, the project would put the town over its requirement with a 36-unit surplus, Cademartori said.  

Maple Street residents Lisa and Louis Terranova are opposed to the plan, but not because they oppose affordable housing, they said.

We’re not in any way against affordable housing,  Lisa Terranova said. We just don’t think this is appropriate for this site, for the town. It hasn’t been thought through, and we know we can do better. 

One of the family’s main concerns is the site planned for the project.

It’s very unfair to potential residents to jam 60 people into 3 acres in the middle of a swamp,  Louis Terranova said. For people who need a lift up and need help, isolating them like that and doing it in a congested manner isn’t fair to them. 

Enough water for everyone?

There’s also a concern regarding water impacts. The Wenham area relies on the Ipswich River for water ” a resource that becomes scarce seasonally, according to Conservation Commission Chairman Phil Colarusso.

Harborlight has attempted to answer that concern by promising that every gallon used at the new development will be saved elsewhere in town.

Our goal is to make sure our draw doesn’t impact the Ipswich by a gallon, and to make sure our septic system is as good as can be so there is no danger to the wetlands,  DeFranza said.

It’s not just about installing low-flow toilets, which still need water to run, according to DeFranza. He said the organization would consider supporting and providing water efficiency upgrades around Wenham to help balance water usage.

They’ve talked about it being water-neutral, which I think is a really important concept for people in the Ipswich River water basin,  Colarusso said. During dry times of the year, the Ipswich River runs dry, which is obviously a problem. 

High-efficiency upgrades in the project itself and in town-owned buildings may not be enough to completely balance what the project would draw from the river, according to Colarusso.   The second option would be to start a fund to pay for homeowners in Wenham to purchase low-flow devices,   Colarusso said.  

The Conservation Commission will continue the discussion Dec. 8. The Zoning Board of Appeals discussion is scheduled to resume at its meeting Dec. 10, though that could be rescheduled pending the completion of a peer review, according to Cademartori. Wenham Town Hall is at 138 Main St. Both meetings are scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m.

Details about the project

The project will build a 18,588 square-foot, roughly 35-foot-tall building on 31/2 acres of land. About 65 parking spaces are planned, DeFranza said.

All 60 units will be affordable, one-bedroom apartments measuring 650 square feet, DeFranza said. They’ll rent at two rates: 48 units at $988 for households with an income below 60 percent of the area median income and 12 units at $529 for households with an income less than 30 percent of the area median.

State law governing elderly housing development restricts tenancy to ages to 55 or older and anyone living with a tenant would have to be 18 or older for the project to remain in compliance, DeFranza said.

Harborlight is currently pursuing rental vouchers from the state, which would lower the cost of the units and allow the company to set a hard age-limit of 62 years or older for all occupants, DeFranza said.

The project will be financed in part with public dollars. Harborlight is looking to secure $975,000 from Wenham’s Community Preservation Committee and another $850,000 from the Wenham Affordable Housing Trust, according to DeFranza.

Those funds were previously committed by their respective boards, but the project never went to Town Meeting for voter appropriation since it wasn’t ready yet, DeFranza said.