By ANDY KIRKALDY
VERGENNES — On Tuesday Vergennes aldermen gave their blessing to a $350,000 Community Development Block Grant for a proposed 25-unit elderly housing project off Monkton Road, an action taken after months of debate and a change in the project to remove future plans for affordable housing.
Aldermen also called for a July 21 public hearing on the grant, a forum that is expected to be a formality given the popularity of the senior housing proposal. That hearing will piggyback on another hearing scheduled for that evening, one on the proposed new city plan.
The Vergennes Development Review Board on May 4 approved the $5.8 million senior housing project, which has been proposed by the Addison County Community Trust (ACCT) and Housing Vermont Inc. Plans for a 6.51-acre parcel next to American Legion Post 14 also call for a library, a “country kitchen area” that can host 40 people, and an activity area large enough for 60 people. The site will also be used as a Meals On Wheels distribution center.
Construction could begin next year if financing and state permits are obtained.
ACCT and Housing Vermont had originally hoped to build several affordable housing duplexes as well, but dropped that plan because of aldermen’s refusal to support the agencies’ block grant application if affordable housing was on the table. Block grants can only be awarded if host communities support them.
Aldermen oppose a state law that allows taxation of affordable housing owned by nonprofit entities at what city officials believe is an unacceptably low rate, but at the same time have said they back more senior housing in Vergennes.
On May 12 aldermen had acted to exclude senior housing from their 2007 resolution opposing block grants for affordable housing projects in Vergennes, a move that paved the way for Tuesday’s support of the grant for the elderly housing project.
In addition to the block grant, other major funding sources for the senior project include federal and state low-income tax credits, federal grants and loans, and a Vermont Housing and Conservation Board loan.
Debate was brief on Tuesday. Senior Alderman Randy Ouellette said after the months of discussion he simply wanted to triple-check the nature of the project.
“This is all strictly elderly housing,” Ouellette asked.
“One hundred percent,” replied ACCT head Terry McKnight, ending discussion.
The DRB’s approval of the project created two smaller parcels, one of 4.34 acres and one of 1.08 acres.
McKnight told aldermen in May that project developers are considering another elderly housing project for the 4.34-acre lot. Middlebury’s Mary Johnson Children’s Center is eyeing the smaller parcel.
Aldermen on Tuesday also set the tax rate and made final the city 2009-2010 budget (see story, Page 1A) and discussed ownership of the land under the city pool and recreation area near Vergennes Union Elementary School. That land is now part of the 14-acre parcel owned by the Vergennes school district that also includes VUES, a nature trail and some Vergennes Union High School fields.
Alderman Joe Klopfenstein and Mayor Michael Daniels attended a meeting with Vergennes ID school board members immediately before the council meeting. Klopfenstein said two options were discussed: transfer of ownership of the recreation land to the city or to a nonprofit corporation that would continue to lease the land to the city.
Daniels said school officials are looking to keep the nature trail with the VUES parcel and transfer the VUHS fields to the high school. Daniels and Klopfenstein said school officials are also working on cost of ownership and maintenance figures that they will forward to City Manager Mel Hawley, the next step in the process.
In other business on Tuesday, aldermen:
• Agreed to tweak how inns, bed and breakfasts, nursing homes and similar businesses are billed for sewer use, at Hawley’s recommendation. He said they should be treated as they are in zoning regulations, as single-units, and then billed for extra use over and above the single-family home allotment of 6,000 gallons. He said that method would be more fair and consistent, and aldermen agreed.
• Heard from Alderman Lowell Bertrand that the city’s recent Youth Fishing Derby drew 296 entrants and their families to the city. Aldermen praised the volunteer committee that ran the weekend event, which raised about $7,000 to fund T-shirts, a barbecue and pizza for all entrants, and a concert by local musician Josh Brooks.
• Heard from Daniels that the Otter Creek falls are now lit nightly seven days a week for the remainder of the summer.