August 21, 2014

Neighbors question changes to affordable housing project

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A clearing owned by Dana and Brenda Hood between North Williston Road and Lefebvre Lane is the proposed site for an affordable housing project. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Dana Hood offered a warning to the Williston Development Review Board at the beginning of its Tuesday meeting.

“It’s going to get kind of technical here,” he said.

He wasn’t kidding.

Hood and his consultant, Debra Bell of Trudell Consulting Engineers, appeared before the DRB on Tuesday to request that amendments to a previously approved affordable housing project between North Williston Road and Lefebvre Lane be exempted from the DRB’s discretionary permit process. Instead, they argued, it should be subject to the more straightforward administrative permit process through the Williston Planning and Zoning Department.

The project in question—known as the Atwood-Hood project because it will utilize land owned by Hood and capital supplied by developer Jeff Atwood—received final site plan approval on April 10, after nearly four years of complicated and often contentious public meetings.

The previously approved site plan was for a nine-unit residential development comprised of a combination of single-family, duplex and triplex dwellings. Subsequent conditions imposed by the Williston Selectboard specified that seven of the nine units be classified as perpetually affordable. Based on current Chittenden County median income figures, five of the seven affordable units will be priced at $240,000, with the other two units set at $265,000.

The requested amendments call for a re-alignment of the units, with the existing single-family dwelling (the current home of Hood and his wife, Brenda) remaining in its current location, rather than being moved west toward North Williston Road. The triplex would be moved to the other side of a proposed access road off North Williston Road. The position of both duplexes would be slightly shifted. Garages are also proposed for the existing single-family unit and the triplex.

Hood explained that the requested amendments are construction cost-saving measures to offset the terms of an affordability agreement negotiated with the town, which includes a stipulation that the developers put $30,000 into an affordable housing fund.

“(Atwood) can’t control the selling prices. They’re fixed,” Hood said. “But what he can control is the cost. It’s that simple.”

Hood added that in his estimation, the proposed amendments will result in a more aesthetically pleasing development, with the added bonus of garages for future homeowners.

DRB member Cathy O’Brien agreed with Hood on the question of aesthetics.

“I think the structures are a lot nicer looking than the first time around,” O’Brien said.

The question of whether the site plan amendments should be subject to the discretionary or administrative permit process hinges on a carve-out in the Williston Unified Development Bylaw that draws a distinction between “substantial” and “minor” changes. Substantial changes require discretionary permit approval from the DRB, while minor changes can be approved administratively.

Richard Asch, one of several Lefebvre Lane residents who attended Tuesday’s meeting, argued that the changes are substantial.

“Aren’t we moving driveways? Aren’t we moving sidewalks? Aren’t we changing parking?” Asch asked the DRB.

Chairman Scott Rieley responded: “We’re not here to pass judgment on it yet. That’s why we’re sitting here taking the testimony. Your question is noted.”

Asch acknowledged that he is not against the concept of affordable housing. However, he reiterated his position that the extent of the proposed site plan amendments near an existing neighborhood demands the public meeting format of the discretionary permit process.

“I’m not against this project going forward in some version, and I’m not against affordable housing. Most of us (on Lefebvre Lane) come from an affordable housing community,” Asch said. “What has been a problem is the density in a specific area and the way it’s being handled.”

No decision was reached by the DRB on Tuesday.

The next public hearing for the Atwood-Hood project has been tentatively scheduled for Nov. 13.

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