Board upholds developments age requirement (10/1/09)

Oct. 1, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The Development Review Board turned down a request to remove age limitations on a development located off Route 2. The developer of the Balsam Circle subdivision, advertised as a 55-and-older housing community, asked the board to do away with the restriction so he could sell to a wider market.

Developer Russ Barone, of Barone Construction Inc., made his case before the board, saying the age stipulation was never stated in the conditions of approval for the final permit.

“Nothing says it must remain age-restricted housing,” Barone told the board.

In effect, Barone believed he could make the change on his own without board approval. His lawyer told him he believed both parties would be able to reach an “amicable solution.”

“I felt the right thing to do would be to come before the board,” Barone said after the meeting.

Balsam Circle is a 14-unit development located off Route 2 on Timothy Way. Four units have already been built on the site — two houses and one duplex. Costs per home are between $369,000 and $410,000. The project began its permit process in 2004 and received its final permit in 2006.

The board disagreed with Barone’s assessment of the project. Members believed the age requirement was factored into the project’s approval process during growth management hearings.

The board consensus was unanimous, though board members Cathy O’Brien and Brian Jennings abstained due to conflicts of interest. Jennings lives in a neighboring development and O’Brien has done environmental site planning for Barone.

Barone did not return calls from the Observer for comment on the Development Review Board’s decision.

Barone argued at the meeting that the town did not give incentives to developments that offered only 55-and-older housing. He said he proposed the Balsam Circle age restriction because, at the time, senior housing was the fastest growing residential market around the country.

Age-restricted housing was a popular idea when Balsam Circle’s plans first came to the board in 2004. With school enrollment on the rise, senior housing seemed like a good way for the town to grow while keeping school populations at manageable numbers. But enrollment has declined in recent years, taking away the appeal of 55-and-older developments.

“I wanted to do a 55-and-older (development) on my own free will,” Barone said.

With the economy struggling, Barone said it made sense for him — and current homeowners — to offer the homes to a larger market.

Barone believed he received no points for offering elder housing during the projects growth management hearing. Proposed developments compete with one another once a year for the town’s limited supply of housing. Points are offered for factors based on aesthetics, environmental friendliness and affordability, among others.

Board Chairman Kevin McDermott said a letter from Barone to town planners from January 2005 said he was, in fact, looking for points in the growth management process.

“You said there were no points given, but you’ve asked for points before in this letter,” McDermott said. “It’s fairly black and white. You wrote this to get points.”

Barone stated he may have initially asked for points, but in the end he believed it didn’t matter since growth management did not end up awarding bonuses for elder housing by the time his project applied for phasing.

“We can agree to disagree on that,” Barone said to McDermott.

Planning Director Ken Belliveau said after the meeting that if Barone still wants to get rid of Balsam Circle’s age restriction, he can apply for an amendment to his final permit. That process would require a public hearing, with neighboring residences being notified. Residents in the Pinecrest Village and the Commons developments originally opposed the project, voicing concerns over blocked views and stormwater runoff.

If the Development Review Board voted against a proposed amendment to Balsam Circle’s final permit, then Barone could appeal the decision before the Vermont Environmental Court, Belliveau said. The court hears all appeals between developers and towns within the state.