Aldermen weigh senior housing project in city

VERGENNES — On Tuesday, Vergennes aldermen inched closer to possibly supporting the developers of a proposed 25,000-square-foot, $5.8-million elderly housing complex off Monkton Road that would provide a community center and services as well 25 living units.
Aldermen clearly favor the elderly housing, the first phase of a proposed larger project near American Legion Post 14 that would also include a childcare center and 24 affordable, single-family condominiums.
But at the same time they oppose a state law that allows affordable and elderly housing projects to be taxed based on their cash flow, not on their cost to build.
That approach, because most renters pay less than market value, produces a lower assessment and less taxes to host communities. In October 2007 aldermen passed a resolution saying that they would not endorse any block grant applications for affordable or elderly housing units that can be taxed at a lower rate that privately owned property.
The project developers, including Addison Count Community Trust (ACCT) and Housing Vermont Inc., would like to include a $325,000 block grant as part of their funding package, ACCT Director Terry McKnight has been discussing with aldermen a binding document that would obligate the project owners to pay taxes at a rate acceptable to the city.
On Tuesday, the council agreed unanimously a motion proposed by Alderman David Austin that he, interim city manager Mel Hawley — also a city lister — and McKnight meet and work out details.
“What might work now is for Terry, myself and Mel to sit down and see what the potential impacts are,” Austin said.
McKnight agreed.
“I certainly would accept going forward with that condition,” he said.
Aldermen emphasized their support for the project, and their focus on taxpayers.
“It’s the property tax impact that is my concern,” said Christine Collette, while Deputy Mayor Randy Ouellette said, “I would support this as long as we are not taking a hit for the taxes.”
McKnight told aldermen that ACCT would manage the property after it was built, and that a market study showed that there was local demand for the elderly units.
“There is a need,” he said.
The project would be built on a 12-acre parcel that is also near the Shaw’s Supermarket plaza, and would be connected by sidewalks to that plaza as well as Monkton Road.
The developers in the project also include Habitat for Humanity and Mary Johnson Children’s Center of Middlebury. It has now almost completed a site plan review before the Vergennes Development Review Board, and Hawley, also the city zoning administrator, said a public hearing could be called as early as December.
Project funding sources include federal and state low income tax credits, federal grants and loans, and a Vermont Housing and Conservation Board loan.
If all the grants, loans and permits fall into place perfectly, developers said ground could be broken on the senior center this coming spring, with completion about a year later. If funding is delayed, they said the timetable is uncertain.
Mary Johnson officials are handling the funding and design of the childcare center, which is expected to be the second phase on the ground. The two-dozen condos will consist of 12 two-bedroom duplexes of 1,500 square feet each. They will be intended to be affordable for families with between 80 and 120 percent of median incomes, and their construction is not likely for a couple of years.
In other business, aldermen:
• Issued certificates of recognition to five local rescue service volunteers who went to the Gulf Coast to help with hurricane relief and one who stayed behind and coordinated the effort. Ann Rivers, Richard Catchapaw, Luke Tallman and Andrea Kane of Vergennes Area Rescue Squad and Tony Korda of Bridport Townline First Response Squad were honored for their work on the scene, and Chuck Welch of VARS for his logistical support work on the home front.
• Heard from Hawley that 990,000 gallons of sludge was removed from one of the city’s municipal sewer lagoons on Saturday and spread on a state-owned farm field in the city’s northwest quadrant. The project cost $139,000, much less than other lagoon-cleaning methods would have, Hawley said. “No question, it saved the city a lot of money,” he said. The lagoon had not been cleaned since 1992, and probably should be cleaned again within six-to-eight years, he said.
• Were told by Hawley that the city was owed about $44,000 in delinquent property taxes, roughly double the usual amount for this time of year. City officials will stay on top of the situation, both for the sake of the city’s finances and that of homeowners. “You’re not doing anyone a favor by not addressing the issue,” he said.

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