Marion property owner Sherman Briggs is 65. He wants to retire, he says, and after ten years of trying to work with the Town on re-zoning the “Gurney” site, property he owns off Spring Street that he wants to develop into a multi-family condominium community, Briggs says he’s done.
And as the Marion Planning Board and other town officials publically expressed their support for re-classifying Briggs’ lots from General Business/Limited Industrial to a Residential E zone for multi-family housing, Briggs has one issue – being forced to comply with a town inclusionary housing bylaw (hereinafter referred to as “the bylaw”) that would compel a buyer to provide affordable housing units within the development.
The December 11 special meeting of the Planning Board was intended to serve as a platform for the Town and general public to ask questions and brainstorm on how to pass a re-zoning article in May at the 2018 Annual Town Meeting. Some other members of other boards like the ZBA and the Housing Trust were also invited, and as Chairperson Eileen Marum led the meeting, it seemed like everyone present was on board the Good Ship Lollipop.
But eventually Briggs burst the board’s figurative affordable housing bubble when he said he could be driven to sell his property to a 40B developer.
Marum supports the proposed project for various reasons, and fellow Planning Board member Stephen Kokkins acknowledged the potential to satisfy housing aspects of the Master Plan approved in October at the Special Town Meeting. Even Board of Selectmen member Steve Gonsalves said, “I’m pretty exited about this, I think it’s long overdue.” And if Sherman Briggs and his brother Arnold were willing to “put their money where our mouths are,” then Gonsalves is good with it.
Briggs and business associate Arnold Briggs listened as the group expressed their optimism and support for re-zoning for a condo community, and the support particularly for more affordable yet upper-level housing options, particularly for seniors. There was also enthusiasm for providing more affordable housing as mandated by the state.
The town’s bylaw requires one out of every six constructed units as affordable housing (AH).
But for Briggs, the Town had better find another way of satisfying that 10% AH ratio because, he said, “People need to know that, if I buy it out … it’s close to a million dollars to make the transition and it kills the project.”
Briggs was referring to an option provided by the bylaw that would allow him to pay a sum of money – $200,000 per AH unit – to avoid including affordable housing units.
“This bylaw does not work. It needs to be looked at and and worked at,” Briggs said. “All it’s doing is driving us to go in the wrong direction.”
He has waited long enough for the town to cooperate over the last ten years, Briggs said. “We need to come up with options on how to solve the affordable component of this project.”
Marum said the Planning Board would like to resolve the AH matter before Town Meeting, adding that the board cannot dictate how Briggs addresses AH units in the 28-unit development he proposes.
During a follow-up, Briggs said the zoning bylaw would allow 32 units or possibly more for the site, but if he should go the 40B route, which he maintains he still may do if he cannot eliminate AH units and make the development plan financially viable, he could construct up to 72 units.
After the meeting, Briggs even mentioned acreage he owns near Piney Point that he felt could be an option for a 40B.
“You have options,” Marum told him, “and it’s in the inclusionary housing bylaw, and it’s your property, you’re going to be doing the building, and the Planning Board is very supportive to get this [Spring Street property] re-zoned … but you’re the one who has to decide which option you want.”
According to the bylaw, Briggs’ options are to provide one affordable unit per six market value units (10% affordable housing), construct affordable housing units on or off-site at a location “so as not to be in less desirable locations than market-rate units in the development,” pay the fee in lieu of providing affordable units at $200,000 per unit, or make a donation of land to the Marion Housing Trust Fund.
Briggs called the Town out on its stance on affordable housing as he sees it.
“If the Town of Marion was one hundred percent behind affordable housing, based on this bylaw, why did it take ten years for the guy to get the 40B through? It doesn’t make any sense.” He continued, “This bylaw is … forcing developers in the wrong direction.”
Look at Mattapoisett for example, Briggs said, a town with only 2% AH. He said that the town approaches land owners and works with them, and he pointed to The Bay Club.
“Can you imagine The Bay Club with thirty-two low-income housing on the golf course?” said Briggs. “If … Marion was behind affordable housing, why did we kick the (expletive) out of Ken Stein (Marion Village estates developer) … and leave ourselves wide open for another [40B]?”
Briggs asked how many of those 48 units were affordable housing, but no one present knew the answer.
“I ask these questions over and over again, and I’m not getting any answers. We should have answers at the top of our heads,” said Briggs. “Why did we fight Habitat for Humanity for five years before? …Because we didn’t want it.”
Briggs will absolutely not subsidize any AH units, which is a subject in Marion, he said frankly, “that went over like a fart in church.”
“This bylaw is not working – it’s driving the nail and I’m gonna be doing something different because I’m not waiting any longer.”
Marum suggested they all hold on until after the New Year for Town Planner Gil Hilario to present some ideas on how to move ahead. She called it a “fruitful” meeting and suggested adjourning, but Briggs was not done yet.
Briggs said he’d like the inclusionary housing bylaw to go before Town Meeting and be jettisoned, while Building Commissioner Scott Shippey said someone would have to drive that article forward.
“We’re trying to be creative and satisfy that bylaw,” said Hilario, “and we’ve come up with a few ideas, perhaps purchasing four units from another area. [I’m] just not sure if it’s possible.” He continued to say, however, “I know it cannot be waived, I’m confident of that. There’s no waiver request that’s allowed.”
In terms of an article petition, he said, “I just think it needs to be well thought out because it’s not common for an inclusionary housing bylaw to be repealed.” Not that the bylaw is a bad thing, he said, “It could just gain a lot of bad attention, a lot of bad publicity. It’s harder to remove a bylaw than to pass one.”
Seated at the table, Margie Baldwin said the Master Plan encourages mixed-use zoning with residential housing combined with commercial, but then pointed out that as history has demonstrated, “Master plans are voted on and then nothing happens.” She urged the swift formation of another sub-committee consisting of Affordable Housing Trust and Planning Board members, and residents to tackle the issue.
Marion resident Terri Villa expressed her confusion over the AH component to developments, saying, “If my parents came and they sold their house and they went into a condo … they’re not going to want to buy a $500,000 condo and their neighbors have the same thing for [$250,000].” What is the incentive, she asked, if developers are forced to include affordable housing?
Not advocating for or against AH, board member Will Saltonstall said, “I just think that there’s a lot of people that believe that all communities should have an affordable housing component,” citing the bylaw as an alternative to a 40B, which would supersede any local housing bylaws. He added that some communities integrate low-income housing “in a way that you don’t know they’re there.”
To Marum, AH units are best introduced slowly, saying, “It’s a shock to a community when you have a large 40B community coming in.”
Hilario reminded the group that once the 10% mandated AH is met, the threat of another 40B in Marion dissipates.
Marion is currently at 8% affordable housing.
Kokkins cautioned the Planning Board to avoid confusing or overwhelming voters at Town Meeting so re-zoning passes.
An article to re-zone the property failed at the October Special Town Meeting and had failed during several other prior town meetings over the past ten years.
Briggs summarized his stance, reiterating that the bylaw doesn’t work, and the only financially viable way to decrease the disparity in the cost between market-value and affordable units – now roughly at $500,000 versus $215,000 – was to increase the number of units
As it stands now, Briggs stated, the Town is forcing him as a businessperson to go in the 40B direction with his land. Higher density equals lower cost, he stated.
“I would do twenty-eight [units], which is clearly a lot less,” with 12 units per acre, said Briggs. “Twenty-eight is a better, sellable product. But when you start driving the cost up to get me where I need to be … it’s pushing me closer to the seventy-two [units] and that’s what that project would be if it were a 40B.”
“And I’m going to make that decision really soon.”
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Marion Planning Board should be December 18 at 7:00 pm at the Marion Town House.
*Editor’s note: This article contains corrections. The name Ruth Olson was replaced with Terri Villa, and please note that Sherman and Arnold Briggs are business associates, not “brothers” as previously stated.