Senior housing development wants to drop age limit (9/3/09)

Sept. 3, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

A senior housing development in Williston is looking to drop its age restriction and allow young families to live there.

Williston builder Russell Barone of Barone Construction Inc. wants to make the units in his Balsam Circle development available to anyone who wants to buy, not just people over age 55. Barone went before the Development Review Board at its meeting on Aug. 25 to discuss the possibility.

The 14-unit project, which garnered final approval from the board in 2006, came at a time when town officials feared enrollment in Williston schools was growing too fast for the town to handle, said Planning Director Ken Belliveau.

Senior housing developments like Balsam Circle and Churchview Estates in Williston Village were given close attention, since it was unlikely homeowners would be moving in with school-aged children. But as school enrollment has begun to decline, so has the need for age-restricted housing, Belliveau said.

Balsam Circle is located off Timothy Way near Route 2. Four units have already been built on the site — two houses and one duplex. The units aren’t small; they average 2,100 square feet. Costs for the homes range from $369,000 to $410,000. Currently, three units have sold.

The development has a controversial past. Residents of the neighboring Pinecrest Village and the Commons subdivisions raised concerns over the project and filed several appeals with the Vermont Environmental Court. Some Commons residents worried their views would be blocked and stormwater runoff would be adversely affected. Those opponents living in Pinecrest Village feared Balsam Circle would create traffic problems. There were also concerns over an emergency access road.

Barone told the board that potential buyers are wary of the age restriction. Some buyers may want to sell their homes in the future and worry about the limits the restriction puts upon them.

“They are considering the future and what could happen,” Barone said.

Barone also said the current economic recession and financing pressure is adding to buyer resistance. He added that the two homeowners currently living in Balsam Circle have no problem with changes in the age restriction.

Board members appeared reticent to suspend the age restriction because it was such an integral part of the development’s permitting process.

“I’ve always had a problem going back and changing things years later, but that’s just my opinion,” board Chairman Kevin McDermott said.

Belliveau, however, said the age restriction was never specifically part of Balsam Circle’s conditions of approval. After the meeting, Belliveau told the Observer the age restriction was part of several legal documents, as well as the development’s declaration and bylaws. Those documents were included in the permit approval process.

McDermott believed the 55-and-older age requirement may have benefitted the project when it came time for construction phasing. Developments compete once a year for the limited amount of construction inventory in Williston in a process known as growth management.

Developments that are considered affordable housing, environmentally sound, or that have other benefits to the town receive priority when phasing is doled out. Age-restricted housing does not currently get any bonus points during growth management review.

“If there was no benefit, you would not have brought (an age restriction) up,” board member Scott Rieley told Barone.

The board said it would continue the discussion at its Sept. 22 meeting, where it may make a final decision.