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Senior housing project may open in 2011

VERGENNES — The principal developer of the planned Vergennes senior housing project said last week that he is optimistic that the last pieces of the funding puzzle will fall into place this spring, allowing construction to start this summer and — if all goes well — seniors to move in by the summer of 2011.
Matt Moore, Housing Vermont Inc.’s project developer for the proposed 25-unit, $5.8 million facility off Monkton Road, said two grant requests totaling $1.6 million are still outstanding.
Housing Vermont and its primary partner, Addison County Community Trust, are seeking $1.1 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant from the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Affairs.
Moore said the 25,000-square-foot building, which will stand on a 6.5-acre parcel next to American Legion Post 14 north of Monkton Road, was awarded its local permit last May and earned Act 250 approval in September.
Now, he said, Housing Vermont officials have reason to be optimistic about the two grants.
“We could get people moving in by June 2011, conceivably,” Moore said.
Clearly, demand — even a pressing need — for the project is there. City Manager Mel Hawley told aldermen at their meeting last week that as many as 100 area seniors could be interested in those 25 units. Aldermen have backed the plan, as have groups like the Champlain Valley Agency on Aging and the Vergennes Area Seniors Association.
Moore said that support should help in both grant applications. He met with New England HUD officials in December, and will hear back on that funding in March. In the federal process, he believes the city project will have another advantage.
“We feel really good about our application,” Moore said. “They’ve encouraged us to apply. We have a project that is shovel-ready, as they say.”
Moore will meet with the state board that decides on the block grants with the next week. That board turned Housing Vermont down in the last round of applications, but that was when the HUD funding was less certain. Now, Moore is more confident after preliminary talks with state officials.
“We also feel really good about that,” he said. “They like that there’s strong community support.”
Much of the remainder of the funding will come from already-issued Vermont low-income and affordable housing tax credits. The project already also has in hand a direct grant from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, $361,000 in HUD special-purpose funding obtained with the help of Sen. Bernie Sanders, and incentives provided by Efficiency Vermont for energy-conservation measures incorporated into the project.
The project will feature a library, a “family kitchen area” that can host small groups, and an activity area that can host larger groups, including up to three dozen outside visitors. The site will also be used as a Meals On Wheels distribution center.
The city’s development review board (DRB) approved the project with several conditions: that planned regular senior lunches 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’s approval of the project also created two smaller parcels out of a larger 11.93-acre parcel owned by Housing Vermont, one of 4.34 acres and one of 1.08 acres. Middlebury’s Mary Johnson Children’s Center has eyed the smaller parcel.
ACCT Director Terry McKnight told aldermen in May that project developers would consider another elderly housing project for the 4.34-acre lot, something Hawley told aldermen last week he hopes Housing Vermont would consider.
Moore said last week that Housing Vermont has focused on the task at hand, not on the future of the 4.34-acre piece, but would do nothing there without seeking input first.
“We would certainly hope to engage the community and the city and make Phase Two something everyone can be proud of,” he said.

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