By ANDY KIRKALDY
VERGENNES — Two decisions by Vergennes officials in the past two weeks brought a proposed 25-unit senior housing plan on Armory Lane closer to reality. The main applicants are Housing Vermont Inc. and the Addison County Community Trust.
On May 4, the city’s development review board approved the plan for the housing, which includes a library, a “country kitchen area” that could host 40 people, and an activity area large enough for 60 people.
On May 12, aldermen acted to exclude senior housing from their long-standing resolution opposing Community Development Block Grants for affordable housing projects in Vergennes. 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 that move at last week’s council will allow them to support the county trust’s planned $350,000 block grant application to support the elderly housing project, which developers told aldermen could break ground next spring if all the funding comes together as they hope.
Last fall, project developers estimated its cost at $5.8 million. Major funding sources include federal and state low income tax credits, federal grants and loans, and a Vermont Housing and Conservation Board loan.
Mayor Michael Daniels said on Wednesday that aldermen are committed to senior housing, and they hope more projects are proposed. Officials said there is a waiting list of about 100 for the only other elderly housing project in Vergennes, on Walker Avenue.
“What we’re really after in this whole deal is senior housing. The need is there,” Daniels said. “The council is really behind seniors. We wish there could be three projects going on at the same time.”
Aldermen last week amended their October 2007 resolution opposing the state taxation law. They added language that excluded from the resolution “an affordable elderly housing development whereby all dwelling units have at least 50 percent of the occupants” at least 55 years old.
At the same time, Daniels and City Manager Mel Hawley emphasized that city officials still oppose the state law that allows nonprofit affordable housing projects to be taxed on an income basis. That approach, because most renters pay less than market value, can produce a lower assessment and less tax revenue.
Vermont cities and towns tax most properties on their construction value, less wear and tear, and Vergennes officials believe taxing affordable housing at what could be a much lower rate places an unfair burden on host communities.
“There is definitely no change in that. We are very firm in our position on that law,” Daniels said. “We feel someone needs to take a stance and send a message to Montpelier.”
Hawley said he and aldermen believe such properties should be dealt with like agricultural properties in the state’s “current use” program, in which host towns are paid back for contributing to the overall public good.
“There should be a similar program for affordable housing projects ... The municipality should be made whole,” Hawley said.
On May 4 the DRB made two decisions related to the project. The developers, doing business as H.V. 2005 Inc., own 11.93 acres on Armory Lane, land that abuts American Legion Post 14 and also fronts on Route 7 in Ferrisburgh.
First, the DRB approved a subdivision into 6.51-, 4.34- and 1.08-acre parcels. That subdivision is contingent on H.V. 2005 installing a sidewalk along Armory Lane, which runs north from Monkton Road, to access the three lots.
H.V. 2005 had originally planned affordable housing duplexes on the 6.51-acre parcel, but dropped those plans to focus on the elderly housing project.
ACCT and Housing Vermont officials say they have no specific plans for that parcel at this point, but ACCT head Terry McKnight told aldermen last week they are considering another elderly housing project. The smaller parcel is being eyed for a daycare center by Middlebury’s Mary Johnson Childcare Center.
The DRB also approved the elderly housing with several conditions: that planned regular senior lunches residents be limited to Tuesdays and Thursdays, that a chain-link fence be built along the southern edge of the property, and that proposed pedestrian paths to the nearby shopping center and to Main Street be properly maintained.
The DRB also ruled that only 36 non-residents at a time should be allowed to attend meals or other events, and that those other events should be limited to “birthdays or anniversaries of residents, or other like functions.”
According to H.V. 2005’s application, the site will also be used as a Meals on Wheels distribution center.