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Hingham takes next step with Beal Street affordable housing

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  March 9, 2011 03:05 PM

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affordable housing plans

Selectmen on Tuesday threw their support behind the Hingham Affordable Housing Trust's proposal for an eight-home development at 80 Beal St., for which the town would take the role of developer.

According to officials, this was the first step in expanding the supply of affordable housing in the town, and for many, this approach will protect the town from unsightly developments while still working toward the affordable housing goal.

“This is a housing project that doesn’t exist in Hingham frequently…this is something we felt strongly about,” said Selectwoman Laura Burns while she looked over the site plans.

Under the state's 40B affordable-housing law, developers who set aside a certain percentage of homes at below-market prices are largely exempt from local zoning bylaws in communities where less than 10 percent of the homes are classified as affordable. In many communities, that has often resulted in developments that local officials and neighbors consider too large and dense for their surroundings.

In this case, however, the town has done the planning itself, and envisions an enclave with eight country-cottage homes dotting the now-vacant property.

At their meeting Tuesday night, selectmen signed a local initiative petition to request site approval from the state. The town expects to put of bids for the builder come summer, after the plans have gone through all the necessary town permitting approvals.

“It has been the position of this board that we wish to have oversight over what the developer is planning and proposing,” Burns said. “I don’t see too much trouble, as the developer is the town of Hingham, which is part of the appeal…

“The town of Hingham is going through the design and permitting process, so we make sure this is designed the way we want it…most developers will take these three acres and develop them into huge units,” she said.

According to Lynne Sweet, a consultant with LDS Consulting Group in Newton, of the eight planned homes, two would be considered affordable, to be sold at the below-market price of $210,000, and would be available to single family households earning 70-80 percent of the median income.

The remaining six developments would be sold at at-market value -- an estimated half-million dollars each.

The development, which has been in the works since 2009, is designed to protect the town from unplanned 40B developments, officials said. If there is a time to do this project, it’s now.

Noting the state's 10 percent affordable housing goal, Bruce Rabuffo, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said, "While Hingham is in discussion of what our actual number is, it is in our best interest to continue to do this,” said Rabuffo. “The world has changed since 2008, and having this is to our advantage.”

Because the parcels will be sold at a cost less than what they are projected to be built, Community Preservation funds as well as Hingham Affordable Housing Trust funds will be used to help pay for the two houses.

Already, the CPC has contributed $150,000, dedicated at last year’s Town Meeting, to the development of the two homes. Additionally, the housing trust anticipates contributing $100,000 to build the two units.

“If we wanted to make three units, we would need additional funding. Whether it’s through CPC or the state trust or housing grant, we would need to figure out. As of right now, we’re thinking of only the two,” said Tim White, chairman of the housing trust.

The total cost of the project is estimated at $3.5 million.

Although the consultant has been speaking with neighbors about the project, there will be ample time for public input during the permitting approval process for this so-called “friendly 40B” project, Rabuffo said.

“The state will check back in periodically to make sure all of their rules are complied with, and the public will have the option to weigh in on what it is we are trying to accomplish,” he said.

The town has contracted $70,000 with Strekalovsky Architecture Inc. to take the plans all the way through permitting.

The property at 80 Beal St. isn’t the only parcel the town is dealing with however. A discussion relating to the two incoming bids for the Hersey House was also presented by the selectmen, although no headway has been made on a decision so far.

Two individuals with two bids each have come forward to purchase the property, which has been up for purchase and shrouded on controversy since 1998.

John McDowell, a South Street resident, bid to purchase the entire property for one or two units of housing for $1.25 million. He also offered to purchase solely the land in the rear for one unit of housing for $850,000.

Additionally, Now Communities LLC bidded to purchase the entire property for 16 residential units for $1.05 million, or the whole parcel for 12 units at $600,000.

Selectmen are awaiting an arbitrator's decision to come on Monday to decide the value of the property in relation to the two bids. However, Selectman John Riley was unconvinced the purchase prices were high enough.

“I’m a bit concerned myself that the way that this RFP was put out, I don’t know if it gave us the best exposure we could have had,” he said.

But according to Rabuffo, in conversations with real estate agents, the response to the RFP is reflective of the market.

“Because its been out there so long, the market is reacting to what they think is the value of the land,” Rabuffo said. “The land is the value on the table. And while the house itself has a lot of historic value, it’s value has been diminished because the house is in the state it’s in … the Realtors I talked to said, 'Take the money and run.' ”

In both bids, the Hersey House would remain standing on the property and would be updated and retrofitting for residential living.

Selectmen have 30 days to process the bid applications and will further discuss the land at their meeting next week.-

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