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Milton's affordable-housing discussions reach an impasse

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  January 10, 2014 03:13 PM

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Discussion on where to build affordable housing has reached a standstill in Milton, despite an incentive that could offer the town temporary reprieve from additional affordable homes.

Planning officials have been debating a Housing Production Plan, which would identify potential sites for affordable housing, for months without consensus, circling around the issue again Thursday night without resolution.

“I think it’s a difference of opinion in each one of the members,” said Town Planner William Clark. “We all think about it for a different reason. [Planning members] aren’t ready to … say, 'Put it in my neighborhood, put it in this neighborhood.' ”

The plan would give developers hints on where the town might accept 40B developments. In exchange, Milton would gain flexibility within the state’s 40B affordable housing law.

Named for the chapter of law it falls under, 40B housing consists of developments where at least 25 percent of the units are “affordable,” or available to someone making up to 80 percent of the area’s median income.

In towns where fewer than 10 percent of the homes are deemed affordable, developers can bypass local zoning laws to build 40B developments.

While affordable housing can be proposed in a town with or without a production plan, the plan offers the town incentives to adopt such a plan.

If a substantial 40B development is constructed on a site named in a town’s housing plan, the town would have a one-year reprieve from any other affordable housing developments.

Milton currently has 4.4 percent affordable housing in the town, and one proposed 40B development, yet officials say a list won’t be finalized anytime soon.

According to Planning Board Chairman Alexander Whiteside, the list is tantamount to the board's endorsement for certain sites, but doesn’t give any limits on what can be constructed.

“If we’re going to issue a plan that would say these are the sites suitable…it’s incumbent to say what kind of comprehensive development we think it’s suitable for,” Whiteside said in a phone interview.

The process of looking at all possible sites and then analyzing what type of development would work takes time, Whiteside said.

Though a list could be made with currently proposed projects – such as the 276-unit Milton Mews development off Brush Hill Road - the approval should also come with restrictions, Whiteside said.

“A [Housing Production Plan] might list the sites on which owners and developers have expressed interest … I can see [the proposed Milton Mews apartment site] mentioned in the [Housing Production Plan], but it would be in conjunction with a statement that the site is entirely inappropriate and unsuitable for the proposed apartment development,” Whiteside wrote in a letter to the Planning Board.

Whiteside also said in the letter the one-year delay for other 40B developments isn’t a big enough incentive to deter developers from the town. They would either file plans more quickly, or simply return to a town at the end of the year.

The restrictions for achieving the one-year delay are also too big to be reasonably met in a typical year, Whiteside said.

Whiteside suggested the Master Plan process undertake the task of identifying places for affordable housing, though that group has already declined the work.

Despite hurdles, Clark said he’s still optimistic the town will nail down some locations.

“It’s identifying what are the constraints of the area it would be going in, at which point you’re going to have to put down some areas where this could go,” Clark said.

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