HPB Discusses 20 Glenwood Ave
By Tara Hughes
Oct 21. On the heels of Monday night’s heated Select Board meeting, the Housing Partnership Board (HPB) discussed 20 Glenwood on Wednesday night. HPB Member (who is also a Select Board member) Mike Bettencourt pointed out that the Select Board meeting “created more questions than answers.” HPB discussed some frustrations and misinformation.
HPB Chair John Suhrbier expressed concern that both Select Board Chair Rich Mucci and Town Counsel Elizabeth Lydon seemed to be pushing back on the Affordable Housing Trust getting involved. Marty Jones, HPB member and Chair of the Affordable Housing Trust Committee voiced her disappointment that Mucci kept asking why the Trust hadn’t stepped up ahead of time and said in fact that it “wasn’t really a collaborative effort.” She went on to say, “The Trust must be more assertive for a seat at the table.”
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The HPB went on to discuss the abandonment issue and the potential loss of the pre-existing, non-conforming use. Mike Bettencourt pointed out that they relied on a flawed appraisal that said the lot was buildable and that going forward the best option would be to figure out how to build and fund affordable housing on that parcel. According to Bettencourt, since the Select Board did not go over the Request for Proposal (RFP) and any offer with the other stakeholders, such as the Planning Board, the AHT and the HPB, as required in the RFP, they didn’t learn about the zoning issues until after an offer was accepted. But “friendly” 40B could be used to build regardless of the zoning issue, Bettencourt said, adding that it was just a “poorly constructed, poorly executed RFP.”
Suhrbier questioned whether the updated appraisal would be the highest and best use. Jones responded that it “has to be highest and best use within the constraints of the [zoning] law.” And that the appraiser would look at the abandonment issue but that they still have 40B and a potential for a variance. Bettencourt also pushed back on the abandonment issue saying the town got ownership recently and did some minor improvement and maintenance to the property as well as pursued town meeting and legal action to move forward. He believes that finding a municipality lost a pre-existing, non-conforming use under an abandonment/non-use bylaw seemed counterproductive if they could show they were taking steps to move forward.
The HPB went on to discuss other misinformation being perpetuated, including the Select Board’s pushback on building on this lot because two parking spots cannot be created on this lot. And also that the prior livable home didn’t have a driveway or parking; and that parking could potentially be placed under a house. I-Ching Scott, a member of both the HPB and Planning Board, said she had already sketched out the footprint of a small home that would meet all of the setback requirements (though still not in conformance with lot size and width) and could in fact include one or two parking spots.
Bettencourt also described as “fiction” Mucci’s assertion that the Select Board had met with all the stakeholders. When the Board discussed the property with Habitat for Humanity they did show interest, but were just more interested in other properties at the time. In addition, Bettencourt has had some more recent talks with Medford Community Housing (MCH) and they are showing interest. MCH built a very similar home recently and could potentially be either a developer or investor on this property, but they want to see the will to do it. MCH was also interested in demolition taking place first to see what they can do with the land.
Pushing back on the issue of delay and lack of interest, Bettencourt got emotional when he explained that the property may have been put on a back burner since around the time the town took ownership of the property the SB received a request by a resident for substantial funds to repair the resident’s home so that they could remain in their home. In return they would transfer the property to the town, which they did. Bettencourt suggested that this emotional and important project, along with the other larger affordable housing developments, caused 20 Glenwood to not receive the necessary focus.
But Bettencourt pointed out that Mass Housing says that smaller lots are just as important as larger lots for affordable housing. He said allowing the abutters to purchase this lot for a “de minimis,” i.e., a trivial amount to improve their lot is not helpful to the town or affordable housing. He said going forward with a flawed RFP process, including a flawed appraisal, is not the way to go, and the RFP needs to be redone. Bettencourt said we “shouldn’t make a bad decision to cover another one.”
Marty Jones reiterated that the AHT is very interested in having housing on this property, but stated that they really need a partner like Medford Community Housing or Habitat for Humanity since the AHTC is a volunteer organization and this will be complex and a lot of work. She said it would also be better if they were not in a “crisis situation.” Jones also agreed that philanthropy and/or matching funds could be a possibility here.
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