Thursday, February 10, 2011

NEIGHBORHOOD DEVELOPMENT: Concord; Work on 350-unit complex begins

Affordable units help town plan

After plodding through years of planning, public hearings, and financing issues, developers are breaking ground on a 350-unit apartment complex in West Concord.

Crews started demolishing two industrial buildings last month, and site work is scheduled to start next month.

“We’re very excited to have finally started after all this time,’’ said Robb Hewitt, who is overseeing the project for Mill Creek Residential Trust. The project’s name has changed from Alexan Concord to Longview Meadow.

The start of construction is good news for Concord officials, who have long supported the affordable housing project because it will ultimately allow for more control over its future residential growth, according to the town’s planning director, Marcia Rasmussen.

The project, built under the state’s Chapter 40B affordable-housing law, will put Concord over a state threshold for affordable housing units. Of the 350 apartments, most of which will have one or two bedrooms, 25 percent would be set aside for lower-income renters, but as rental units all of them qualify for the Chapter 40B requirement. As a result, at least 10 percent of Concord’s housing stock can be considered affordable, meeting the state’s threshold.

Many communities frown on Chapter 40B projects because it allows developers to bypass most local zoning regulations as long as they set aside a percentage of the units as affordable. But with the new apartments under construction, Concord will be able to say no to projects that don’t fit in with its planning goals.

“It’s great because this particular property has been on the table for about four years,’’ said Selectman Jeffrey Wieand, chairman of the Concord board. “It allows us to comply with the state housing statute.’’

The project is being built on a 30-acre parcel on Old Power Mill Road in the town’s southwest corner bordering Maynard, Acton, and Sudbury. Traffic would enter and exit the property through Acton, and the apartments will be adjacent to a Sudbury neighborhood.

When the project was proposed, Acton and Sudbury residents raised concerns about the traffic and density of the project.

But there have been no issues since construction started, officials said.

“We haven’t had many concerns or complaints from neighbors,’’ said Jody Kablack, Sudbury’s director of planning and community development. “For now, we have an open line of communication, and nothing has been flagged yet for an issue.’’

On the site, there will be 11 three-story buildings, each with 28 units, and 42 two-story town house units. In addition, the project will include a 6,000-square-foot clubhouse with pool, fitness center, and other amenities.

Hewitt said the timing for construction isn’t ideal, but the company is trying to get as much done as quickly as possible. Construction is expected to take about two years, though the company plans to start leasing the units in about a year. He said there would be a lottery for the affordable units.

Hewitt said he’s hopeful that the housing market will have rebounded by then.

“It’s poised for a recovery,’’ he said. “Very little has started over the last couple of years, so we think we’ll be in a good position.’’ Concord approved the project’s Chapter 40B comprehensive permit in the spring of 2008, and Acton approved its permit in November 2008.

Concord was allowed to count the unbuilt units toward its affordable-housing stock as long as the developer obtained a building permit within a year. However, the year passed and the developer was unable to obtain financing so a building permit was not issued. As a result, the town had to take those units off its affordable-housing inventory, Rasmussen said, leaving the town once again vulnerable to other 40B projects.

But Rasmussen said the company was able to work out the financing last fall, and returned to Concord for the building permit. Now that it has been filed, Rasmussen said, the town can add the units to its affordable housing inventory.

Rasmussen said she’s relieved that no other developer proposed projects in the meantime.

“I don’t have to hold my breath any longer,’’ Rasmussen said.

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts Boston Globe January 27, 2011

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