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Council agrees to support affordable housing project

10/17/13 | By Sheila R. Cherry, Associate Editor

BERLIN—The Mayor and Town Council voted to approve requests for a reduction of certain municipal fees for an affordable housing project near Flower Street, resolutions to amend provisions of the town charter regarding the timing and procedures for town elections, and extend a contract for engineering services for the spray irrigation system at Five Mile Branch, during the Oct. 15 meeting.

Salisbury native W. Andrew Hanson, vice president of the Annapolis-based firm Osprey Property Company L.L.C., briefed Mayor Gee Williams and the Town Council on a proposed $13.9 million affordable housing project, Cannery Village, slated for property at the former cannery site off of Flower Street. The company is proposing to build at least 40 residential homes and a community center/leasing office at the site with boundaries on Route 113, Flower Street and Cannery Way.

The builder said the project would offer three and four-bedroom houses in rental price ranges targeted for the local workforce with modest incomes, from $500 to 950 per month. If the property opens as scheduled in September 2016, the average rent would be $750, Hanson said.

The builders are seeking to apply for a low income housing tax credit from the state Department of Housing and Community Development later this month and would like to do so in time to be considered for awards scheduled for March 2014. The process is highly competitive, Hanson said, and Osprey was seeking support from town officials that could help bring the project closer to its competitors for federal and state funding.

Hanson said Osprey was seeking the town’s endorsement of the project and financial support in the form of a one-time 50 percent discount of the water and sewer connection fees for the first 10 equivalent dwelling units (EDU’s) allocated to the site. EDUs have to be paid before a project’s building permit can be pulled, Town Administrator Laura Allen explained later. 

The company also asked the town to waive town property taxes, by granting a 15-year payment in lieu of taxes agreement that would equal $137 in taxes for each unit, starting when the buildings become occupied. At the end of the 15-year period, he said, the rental residents would be offered an option to purchase their units, Hanson said.

When Council Vice President Elroy Brittingham asked whether Osprey had developed an affordable housing project like the one proposed before, Hanson acknowledged that Cannery Village would be the company’s first such project. He added, that the company “is there for the long run.”

Brittingham also asked what the average rent would be and where the entrance and exit for the development would be located. Hanson said the average rental rate would be $700 per month and that the entrance and exit points of the property would be within the town boundaries.

Williams, and Councilmembers Lisa Hall and Troy Purnell were enthusiastic about the concept of bringing more affordable housing into the area, and expressed their support for the project. Councilmember Paula Lynch, however, balked at the company’s financial request. She noted that it amounted to nearly $170,000 in tax and fee concessions without a clear understanding of what the assessed value of the properties would be.

“It strikes me that you are asking for a lot,” she told Hanson and quizzed him on projections for estimates on what would be the projected tax revenue from the houses.

After discussions and with tapping into the institutional knowledge of Purnell, who is a local developer, Lynch’s questions were addressed to the extent that she voted along with the rest of the board to approve the request, but with the modification to replace the 50 percent reduction with a fixed dollar amount of $84,000 for EDU fees.

The request was approved by a vote of 4-0. Councilmember Dean Burrell was absent.

The town council also unanimously approved a series of resolutions to amend the town charter, including:

·      Resolution 2013-09, which would adjust the date for mayor and council elections from the second Tuesday, to the first Tuesday, in October every four years starting 2016; and it would allow an election to be cancelled when a single candidate was running unopposed;

·      Resolution 2013-10, which would adopt the timing schedule created by the change in election dates, and adjust the expiration dates for the terms of councilmembers;

·      Resolution 2013-11, which would adjust the date first of the post-election regular meeting from the second Monday to the “next” Monday after a town election;

·      Resolution 2013-12, which would adjust the date for swearing in the mayor; and

·      Resolution 2013-13, which would adjust filing deadlines for candidate nominations to avoid conflicting with holidays, such as Labor Day; would disallow last minute write-in campaigns by requiring nominations of write-in candidates to be made no less than seven days prior to an election; and would allow town officials to publicize withdrawals of candidates and candidate changes through public information sources in order to avoid having to reprint absentee ballots.

Lynch had suggested that town officials seek review by the Worcester County Board of Elections of the resolutions that were approved.

The council also held a first reading for an ordinance that would change a rule governing how absentee votes were counted for ineligible candidates. The ordinance would change the language of Chapter 12, Article III, Division 2 of the Town Charter from “(7) Any absentee ballot showing a vote for a person who is no longer a valid candidate for any reason will not be counted for that candidate, but such vote will not invalidate the remainder of the ballot.”

The proposal would change the language to “(7) Any absentee ballot showing a vote for a person who is not a valid candidate for any reason will not be counted for that candidate, but such vote will not invalidate the remainder of the ballot.

A public hearing of the changes was scheduled for during the Oct. 28 regular council meeting.

The council approved a request to extend a contract with engineering firm URS to allow the contractor to provide additional services needed at the Five Mile Branch Spray Irrigation Site. Water Director Jane Kreiter estimated that the project would be fully completed by the end of January 2014.

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