April 23, 2014

Atwood-Hood project seeks to reduce affordable units

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By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

After years of complications, delays and contention, developers of an affordable housing project in Williston say the only way to salvage the project is to cut the number of affordable units by more than half.

The Atwood-Hood project, a partnership between developer Jeff Atwood and landowners Dana and Brenda Hood, received final site plan approval in April to build eight units on North Williston Road, seven of which would be perpetually affordable.

But Dana Hood told the Selectboard in May that, due to a number of circumstances, building seven affordable housing units is no longer feasible.

The project is set to go before the Development Review Board on June 11 to request an amendment to the final plan reducing the number of affordable housing units from seven to three. Nothing else would change, meaning the development would look exactly the same to passersby, but fewer units would be affordable.

“This is really the only option without going back to square one,” he said. “If he (Atwood) has to go back to square one, with the new bylaws, the math doesn’t support affordable housing at that point.”

Hood said several factors have combined to render seven affordable units “financially unfeasible,” including a growth management allocation with a staggered building schedule spaced out over four years and changes to federal and state funding mechanisms.

Hood said the town’s bylaws don’t address the matter. Developers compete for building allocation through a point system. A project receives points for affordable housing, capping at 30 percent. That means Atwood and Hood could have gotten the same number of points if they had originally put three affordable units on their application—37.5 percent.

He asked the Selectboard to write a letter of support for the project, showing that “the Selectboard still fully endorses the success of any affordable housing project and more specifically this project, even with the reduction in affordable homes as something the town desperately needs and is clearly identified in the town plan.”

Selectboard members expressed a reluctance to influence the decisions of the DRB, but voted unanimously to have Town Manager Rick McGuire draft a letter stating the board would be willing to renegotiate its 2012 affordable housing agreement with Atwood and Hood if the number of housing units was reduced, while reaffirming the DRB’s authority to interpret the bylaws. That way, the DRB wouldn’t have to worry whether the Selectboard would go along with the changes.

The next Development Review Board meeting is set for June 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the town hall.

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