October 26, 2014

Project could bring lower-priced homes to village

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By Greg Elias
Observer staff

A local contractor wants to build a small subdivision in Williston Village that could feature relatively inexpensive homes in a town increasingly populated by pricy housing.

Talcott Estates would be located near the intersection of U.S. 2 and North Williston Road. The building site is on about 3 acres along Lefebvre Lane, a cul-de-sac off North Williston Road.

Plans filed with the town show the project would include nine units. They will be a mix of duplexes, townhouses and single-family homes, said Jeff Atwood, the property owner and developer.

The duplex would be in a 250-year-old farmhouse at the site, said Atwood, who plans to renovate a barn on the property for a carriage house that he would occupy. The remaining six units would be single-family homes and townhouses.

Atwood said he sees the project as filling a need for affordable housing. Some units could sell for as little as $230,000, though Atwood said he has yet to determine exactly how many homes would fall into the lower-price category.

“What the state needs right now is affordable housing,” he said. “It doesn’t need more $300,000 or $400,000 or $500,000 homes.”

Atwood said he is looking into an arrangement with Champlain Housing Trust that would help him develop the affordable units.

To be considered affordable, the total cost of owning a home – mortgage payment, insurance and property taxes – should be no more than 30 percent of a household’s median income, housing experts say.

Developments meeting the definition for affordable housing receive special consideration during the town’s development review process. Impact fees can be waived. Projects can also receive extra credit in phasing, which the town uses to limit the number of housing units built each year.

John Fairbanks, spokesman for the Vermont Housing Finance Agency, said it would take family income of $73,000 to afford a $230,000 home. He said state tax data shows the median family income in Williston is $76,000.

If the prices in Talcott Estates even approach $230,000, they will be less expensive than other new homes in Williston.

The median price for a newly built single-family home in Williston was $423,000 over the past two years, according to sales data shared by Fairbanks. No new condominium in Williston has been built during the same period that sold for less than $350,000.

Atwood has been a commercial painting contractor for 21 years. He owns Colchester-based Russ/Wood Decorating Inc.

Talcott Estates would be the first subdivision he has developed, Atwood said, although he is now working on a duplex conversion in Richmond.

Atwood is currently renovating the development’s farmhouse, with one portion of that building already occupied while the remaining work is completed. The barn conversion would take place next year, he said, with construction of the other units to follow.

The project must receive a subdivision permit from the town. The permit process includes three rounds of review: conceptual, preliminary and final. The initial hearing before the Development Review Board is scheduled for May 8.

Atwood acknowledged that an extended review process could drive up the cost of the homes. But he hopes the project will provide “a viable way to preserve an historic property for Williston as well as provide affordable housing for the state.”

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