A year ago, Plymouth Town Meeting refused to approve 69 additional acres for the Pinehills development. But that same request easily passed muster at the Town Meeting last month.
What caused the change?
Two main factors turned defeat to victory: An outside analysis, completed shortly before the latest Town Meeting, showed Pinehills, the second-largest taxpayer in Plymouth, has exceeded all expectations for bringing revenue to the town.
Plymouth nets $6.5 million annually from Pinehills, and that amount is projected to grow to just under $25 million per year by 2020.
Second, owners of the Pinehills, while not agreeing to put affordable units on their site, recently committed themselves to helping Plymouth achieve its affordable-housing goals by establishing a charitable trust fund and giving it $500,000.
Pinehills LLC holds a permit for a little over 3,000 housing units, consisting of condominiums, houses, and apartments, along with some office and commercial space, on about 3,000 acres in a picturesque part of town.
The site runs on its own water and sewer system and maintains its roads. And very few school-age children live in the development, limiting the demands on the town budget. According to an independent study commissioned by the town and released last month, Pinehills generates $7,158,000 annually in property and excise taxes, and Community Preservation surcharges.
Meanwhile the town spends about 10 cents per dollar generated by Pinehills on services to that community.
"Pinehills currently generates a net annual fiscal benefit of approximately $6,463,000," said Connery Associates in its summary of findings. Pinehills also generates an estimated $20 million per year in retail sales in town, and has spent about $2.5 million to date in building permit fees.
"In the 10 years Connery Associates has prepared fiscal studies for both public and private interests, Pinehills clearly stands out as the single most fiscally favorable mixed-use development from a cost-to-revenue ratio perspective and in terms of actual net dollars returned to the community on an annual basis," concluded Connery.
Connery projected that net annual revenue to the town from Pinehills, as it is built out, will climb to $24.9 million by 2020.
John Judge, president of Pinehills LLC, said 1,300 homes and apartments have been built there, along with three golf courses, and 150,000 square feet of commercial and retail space. The development's latest addition is a grocery store called The Market. "We have 22 different neighborhoods now," said Judge, and even in the present economy, "We're continuing to move forward."
One issue the Pinehills is addressing is the question of affordable housing. Condos and houses in the development range in price from $300,000 to $3 million.
According to Judge, "When Pinehills first began 10 years ago, Plymouth was looking for a higher price range to support its tax base. At the time, the goal the town asked us to pursue was higher-end marketplace."
When the Open Space Mixed Use Development permit was negotiated for the Pinehills, the town had yet to adopt its inclusionary housing bylaw. That law, adopted a few years after Pinehills, requires all new developments to have at least 10 percent of the housing unit be affordable.
Since it wasn't in the Pinehills permit, the development, which when completed will include over 3,000 housing units, was exempt from the affordable requirement - a fact that didn't sit well with Town Meeting representatives a year ago.
Michael "Buster" Main, precinct chairman and Town Meeting representative, was one of the most outspoken, urging fellow Town Meeting members last year to deny Pinehills' request to add 69 acres to the development.
Last week, Main said Pinehills representatives met with him and other town officials following last year's vote and hammered out a compromise.
"They are establishing an affordable-housing trust and will fund it with a half-million dollars seed money," Main said. "People like Habitat for Humanity and other affordable-housing entities can apply for the funds for things like land, lumber, or anything else."
Money will be added to the fund each time a condo or house is built at Pinehills.
A committee that includes two Pinehills trustees, an elected official, an lawyer, and a member at large will consider applications.
"They heard the message from Town Meeting last year and stepped up," Main said. "I'm happy with the outcome."
Bruce Arons, Plymouth's director of community development, said developers are given a few ways to fulfill affordable commitments. They can include the housing on site, build it on another site they own, donate land to the town for affordable housing, or give cash in lieu of the housing at a rate of $200,000 per affordable unit required under the 10 percent threshold.
Arons stressed Pinehills is under no obligation to address the town's affordable requirements.
"I said we would be as happy as can be with whatever they did, since it's not in their permit," Arons said. "They created the trust just before Town Meeting. They've done everything they said they would since they started their project, so people believe that will continue."
Christine Legere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.