Town officials and residents of Rochester got acquainted on January 3 with the proposal for a 208-unit residential development on Cranberry Highway classified as a Chapter 40R high-density zoning development that would mix residential and commercial and set aside 20 percent of its units to affordable housing.
Developer Ken Steen has built similar projects with affordable housing components in multiple locations totaling about 1,200 units, including the 96-unit 40B Marion Village estates and Sippican Woods in Marion.
The joint meeting between the Rochester Board of Selectmen and the Planning Board was “informational only,” Town Administrator Suzanne Szyndlar told a room packed with concerned citizens and some town employees eager to learn what impacts on municipal services the development would create for the town as it brings the potential to add somewhere close to 500 more residents to the population of roughly 5,500 in Rochester.
“Rumors had already started, so we wanted to get this meeting going sooner rather than later,” Szyndlar said.
Steen was joined by Attorney Paul Haverty, consultant Judy Barrett from Barrett Planning Group, and a representative from A.D. Makepeace who is the current owner of the property located near the corner of Routes 58 and 28.
Haverty explained that Chapter 40R was created to encourage municipalities to produce affordable housing, “but to do it in a way that is actually compatible with their zoning and their goals and how they want to address development within the town. It encourages mixed use,” Haverty said, and it encourages siting this type of development in specific locations close to rapid transit, areas of concentrated commercial development, and properties ideal for high-density single-, two-, three-, and multi-family residential zoning.
This type of zoning needs a two-thirds majority Town Meeting approval in the form of what is called a Smart Growth Overlay District zoning bylaw to accommodate the project, which, Haverty said comes with some compensatory financial benefits to the town.
“That’s one of the nice things about a Chapter 40R development for municipalities as compared to something like a Chapter 40B development in which there is no input,” said Haverty. “Town residents don’t get the opportunity to take a vote on it (with a 40B); it’s simply the applicant chooses the parcel they want to develop … and then they file an application with the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Under a Smart Growth Overlay District, the project would proceed through a Site Plan review with the Planning Board, which allows the town to maintain some oversight over its own regulations pertaining to building requirements, drainage, and traffic flow among other things, unlike a 40B.
“This (40R) is a much more inclusive process,” Haverty said. “It’s one that the town has a much more significant role in the plan than you would under a Chapter 40B.”
A 40R requires the developer to designate rental units for affordable housing, either by setting aside 20 percent of the units offered to citizens in the 50 percent area median income range or by designating 25 percent of the units to those falling in the 80 percent area median income bracket, a policy set by the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development.
According to Steen, he would be applying with the state to offer the 25 percent to an 80 percent median income population.
Steen said Rochester, which so far only has eight affordable housing units and hasn’t met the state’s required 10 percent affordable housing minimum, would add 52 more affordable housing, which would bring Rochester 29 units above that 10 percent mark – a plus, said Steen, because it would prevent other potentially less desired 40B developments from being built in locations Steen said might not be as favorable.
The project would bring some financial assistance to the town to help offset costs associated with the increased demand on services, particularly the school district and police and fire. For the 208 units, Rochester would receive a one-time payment of $350,000, an additional “density bonus” of $3,000 per bonus unit, plus one-time permitting fees, all totaling $1.1 million.
Steen said under Chapter 40S, the town might also be eligible for further funding for the exclusive use of education if the cost of the increased demand on services exceeds the one-time financial incentive payments and tax revenue generated from the project.
Steen’s consultant Judy Barrett has performed a preliminary financial impact study estimating an annual revenue increase of $117,000 in excise taxes; $282,000 in residential property taxes; $100,000 in commercial property tax; offset by expenses estimated at $27,000 for police; $60,000 for fire; $5,000 for “other departments;” and $138,000 for education – roughly a net annual positive of $267,872 to the town. A formal impact study would be completed before the Annual Town Meeting when the zoning bylaw would be presented for a vote.
Barrett said, although she doesn’t yet know the exact numbers, “Whatever that ratio is … I’ve gone back and looked at what actually happened with some of the projects I’ve studied … and what I often hear from the fire and police folks is, ‘You know, you’re absolutely right on with the revenue.’”
Steen described the specs for the development that would feature several 50-52-foot high four-story buildings, a workout room, community center, outdoor pool, and its own wastewater treatment facility. Units would be connected to Wareham’s municipal water supply.
Affordable rental units would be offered at around $1,350 and the market rate units at $1,800-$1,900, depending on the rate set by the state.
A resident asked Steen if this time in Rochester he would “do a better job” than in Marion, to which Steen replied, “With all due respect, I think we’ve done a nice job in Marion. But this is a very different animal, these buildings are very different than what those buildings are, and it’s a different use, if you will.
Another advantage of a 40R over a 40B, Haverty said, is that the town could include in its Smart Growth Overlay District Bylaw a provision that Rochester residents receive a preferred status when units are available and dibs on 70 percent of the units, subject to state approval.
“But they can impose that,” said Haverty. Rochester residents would be entered into a separate lottery for those units earmarked for local preference.
When asked if A.D. Makepeace would move forward with a 40B should Town Meeting reject the overlay district bylaw, the representative replied, “We’ve rejected four other proposals to date because our company approach is to try to work with the town as opposed to a more corporate approach of jamming a project. … Ultimately, we think what we’re bringing you with Ken and his family is a locally controlled local option – housing option that gets you your 40B number, protects you against the next census for 40B, and you get to participate in what project you get as opposed to the alternative.”
Still, when asked to clarify, he responded, “At some point something has to happen. … We think what we are bringing you here … is a local family doing something with the town as opposed to a national group that comes in with a template, outlast your ZBA, and gets what they want. And at the end of the day, our reputation would be to side with the town as opposed to a group of people you would never meet.”
Although he would not specify a “this or that” scenario, the representative said, “But the reality is, eventually something has to happen.”
And should the 40R fall through and a 40B enter the town, Haverty said, “It might be a parcel that is not as well situated that has much greater impacts on abutting residential uses than this one.”
Planning Board Chairman Arnie Johnson said the Planning Board would begin to review other model district bylaws in the coming weeks to begin the process of crafting an article for May.
Town Counsel Blair Bailey said, in order for the application to head to the state for step 1 in the process, the Board of Selectmen and Planning Board would need to vote in support of the application, although it would not be a vote for final approval. But in the end, Bailey stated, “The final say is Town Meeting.”
Joint meeting of the Rochester Board of Selectmen and Planning Board
By Jean Perry