Facelift for Affordable Housing Law

Marion’s affordable housing bylaw will be getting a facelift, announced members of the Marion Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, February 4. That is at least, if the voters agree to it.

            “We discussed the affordable housing bylaw last Thursday,” said Marion Town Planner Jay McGrail, “and after further discussion, we’ve decided to move forward with amending the bylaw to more reasonable numbers that might be easier on developers.”

            The current bylaw, as it stands, requires that 10 percent of a development of six or more units in Marion be classed as affordable housing. Otherwise, the developer can choose to pay $200,000 to the town to avoid the requirement.

            At a meeting regarding inclusionary housing in Marion, Selectman John Waterman had pointed out that the bylaw had not been enforced, as the numbers were extremely prohibitive to developers. 

            The bylaw change, which will need to be ratified by voters at Town Meeting, would amend the bylaw to require that only 5 percent of a development featuring six or more units be classified as affordable. Otherwise, the developer can choose to pay a $75,000 fee instead of including the affordable units. Waterman said he thought this was a much more reasonable number for developers to handle. 

            Marion Finance Director Judy Mooney brought the town’s annual budget for the 2021 fiscal year to the selectmen’s attention. “The town’s budget requirements have only risen by 3.15 percent,” she said, “which is one of the smallest rises in years, and I’m quite happy with that.”

            Amongst the town departments featuring an increased budget is the Assessor’s Office (upgraded software) and the Police Department (new vehicle). Mooney also pointed out that the Town Clerk budget will look higher than it did in the previous year. Current Town Clerk Elizabeth Magauran was appointed in September of 2019, and therefore last year’s budget only included a half-year of expenses. This year, the entire year will be accounted for.

            Marion Fire Chief Brian Jackvony is requesting an additional full-time firefighter, Mooney reported, which accounts for an increase to the Fire Department budget. “He’s really looking for an additional person to cover those weekday incidents, where they have the most calls,” she reported.

            “I’m a little concerned about this one because, when we hire a new full-time person, the real cost is benefits,” Waterman said. 

            “I can’t really speak to that. Chief Jackvony will have his reasons I’m sure, and we’ll let him speak to them,” said McGrail. Jackvony will be meeting with the Selectmen in the future to address any concerns, as had been previously planned.

            Marion resident Dr. Edward Hoffer, a member of the Friends of the Marion Council on Aging, presented the findings of a recent survey of Marion residents over 55. 

            “We were granted funds by AARP recently to fund this study,” he explained, noting that the grants were awarded because Marion was recognized by AARP as an “age-friendly community. 

“In 2018, 36 percent of Marion’s population was over 60. By 2030, over 40 percent of residents will be over 60. The question is: Are we ready?”

            The survey was sent to 2,200 Marion residents over the age of 55, and 564 of the surveys were returned. Based on the survey, Hoffer said, the biggest problems for older residents in Marion were infrastructure (sidewalks in poor condition, danger crossing Route 6, and availability of public bathrooms) as well as housing. 

            Ninety percent of people who responded stated that housing was the biggest problem for older residents in town. Fifty-six percent of residents wanted more availability of smaller homes, 52 percent sought more assisted living, 42 percent were interested in an over-55 complex, 34 percent were seeking rental apartments. Many answers indicated more than one choice.

            “A lot of these issues are things we’re tackling, things that are in the pipeline,” said Waterman. “The thing is that they take money, and a lot of it. So we’re trying to prioritize as best we can to not put extra burden on the taxpayers. And Route 6 in particular is tricky because we’ve gone to the state time and time again to fix it, and they aren’t as concerned as we are. So we’re going to keep going to them, but if you want to write to your local representatives with your concerns, that definitely helps as well.”

Marion Board of Selectmen

By Andrea Ray

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