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AvalonBay presents 40B apartment plan; town seeks ruling from the state

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  June 29, 2012 10:28 AM

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Jessica Bartlett

Zoning Board of Appeals members listen to concerns about a 40B proposal in front of a packed room at Hingham Town Hall.

Hingham residents will have to wait two months for the next step in a fight against a 177-unit affordable housing complex that has been proposed for land next to the Derby Street Shoppes.

At a meeting Thursday night, Zoning Board members temporarily rejected the AvalonBay Communities Inc. development, pending a determination of the town’s level of affordable housing, which will decide whether the town is subject to the state's 40B law.

Under 40B, in towns where less than 10 percent of the housing units fits the state's definition of affordable, developers have wide latitude in avoiding local zoning and conservation ordinances if they promise to set aside 20 to 25 percent of the homes at below-market rates.

The AvalonBay proposal is being made under 40B. But according to local officials, Hingham’s number is closer to 15 percent, when all of the Linden Ponds housing is counted.

Under the state law, towns can count all houses in rental communities that comply with the 40B mandate, even though only 25 percent may actually be affordable.

Yet the state feels that Linden Pond’s residences are purchased, and thus only the actually affordable houses should count towards the mandate. As a result, the state puts Hingham’s affordable housing number at about 5.96 percent.

Hingham officials have tried to resolve this through the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). However, there hasn't been a pending proposal, and thus the town hasn't been able to receive a determination.

“Hingham has consistently taken the view since the Linden Ponds project in 2001 that town has met or exceeded threshold. But without prejudge to that, town has entertained 40B applications in the past…if they make sense for the town,” said Joe Fisher a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Now, the Avalon Bay's proposal on the table, Hingham will begin the process of going through DHCD to prove its case, while putting AvalonBay on the back burner until the state makes a decision.

Even with the issue heading to the DCHD, Hingham residents made the case against the development on Thursday night.

According to Hingham residents, who voiced concerns over quality of life, traffic, and the impact on the town’s public service, the location is troublesome.

“While the project is listed as a residential development, it’s a commercial development for the benefit of the Avalon Corporation. This project must be stopped,” said Steve Kelsch, a past president of the Farm Hills Civic Association, which spoke on behalf of neighbors.

Betty Gibbons, a resident of Dearfield Road, agreed that the development would significantly impact her neighborhood.

“People who live on Deerfield have lived there for 15 years. If this complex is approved, quality of life will be strongly impacted,” Gibbons said. “It’s more than double the height of our single-family home. We will be stripped of privacy; streetlights will illuminate our yards like a ballpark seven days a week. We pay our taxes…we shouldn’t be subjected to such devastation.”

Judy Kelley, a nearby resident and title examiner who has been spearheading the opposition against the proposal, gave a detailed presentation on why Linden Ponds was a rental facility, and not an ownership facility, citing deed records, mortgages, and property tax bill records.

“The Department of Housing and Community Development’s argument that Linden Ponds apartments are owned are without merit. We ask the Zoning Board of Appeals and the town to take whatever steps necessary to stop this development,” Kelley said.

AvalonBay representatives stood firm that their developments were high-quality, citing their locations in Lexington, Northborough, Shrewsbury, Marlborough, Peabody, Westborough, Natick, Boston, and Woburn.

Additionally, the proposal is not set in stone, said Michael Roberts, vice president of development for AvalonBay, and the developer hopes to work with the community.

“This is the beginning of a process. There are a lot of concerns. Our job is to do the best we can to respond to those concerns,” Roberts said. “There’s been a thought process to our proposal, we are here to address those.”

The meeting was continued to Sept. 12 at 7 p.m. A decision regarding the affordable housing number is expected by then.

Should the town disagree with the state’s determination, Hingham can appeal to the Housing Appeals Committee.

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