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Council agrees to support affordable housing project

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.