Waltham site looked at for affordable housing

WALTHAM — The Addison County Community Trust (ACCT) has reached a deal to buy the now-vacant, 14-unit Gevry Trailer Park in Waltham on the Vergennes city line, a property the nonprofit agency hopes to use for affordable or senior housing.
ACCT Executive Director Terry McKnight said the trust — which already manages 350 affordable units in nine parks, including the Otter Creek Park in Vergennes, and is a partner in the city’s new elderly housing project — will seek input from Waltham officials and residents on the best approach to the park’s future
“We are looking to work with them and see if we can do something with the site,” McKnight said, adding, “I am very optimistic.”
The 2.3-acre park sits on Maple Street and has frontage on Otter Creek. The park’s last tenant moved out in 2009. McKnight said he has had his eye on the site for years as a place to provide housing for moderate- and low-income families and seniors. The trust and park owners Rheal and Gail Gevry talked on and off for almost two years before striking a deal.
In 2009, McKnight spoke with the Waltham Planning Commission about the site, which is in an area designated for affordable housing in the Waltham Town Plan and is served by Vergennes city sewer and Vergennes-Panton water.
Planners then supported the concept, but town zoning administrator Tom Langeway said the issue has not come up since. Langeway believes town officials would still favor the concept, however.
“They would look at it again, I’m sure,” he said.
Langeway said demand remains strong in Waltham for affordable property, with some specifically wondering about Gevry Park itself.
“We’ve had people call up a couple times this summer and ask what’s going on down there. People want something down there,” Langeway said. “We need more affordable housing around here.”
One issue that will have to be resolved is the number of units that would be permitted at the park. Although the area is earmarked for affordable housing, Langeway said it is still zoned for agriculture, with lot-size requirements that would not permit 14 units.
Because the trailers have been empty for so long, there remains the question of whether that number of units would still be grandfathered and be allowed there. If not, Langeway confirmed a zoning change will be a necessary move, but it is one that would probably earn support in Waltham. 
McKnight said ACCT would pursue whatever course the town determined, but believed a case could be made the units are grandfathered.
“I guess it’s still a legal issue. It’s still listed as a park. It hasn’t been closed formally,” he said.
Regardless, McKnight sees 14 units as a maximum for the site, and that they could take different sizes or shapes depending on how ACCT and Waltham officials evaluate the town and area’s needs.
He said the easiest thing to do would be to line up another 14 single-unit trailers, but that ACCT officials are hearing demand for better-quality modular units, possibly even duplexes, that would increase in value over time.
When ACCT sells a unit, it keeps the price artificially low. When it is resold, ACCT then shares in the equity — the increase in value since the original sale — with the seller. That practice makes modular homes desirable for both parties.
“When you put a modular home on a foundation it starts appreciating,” McKnight said. “It’s a way to preserve the affordable housing nature of that location, but take a step up on the type of housing that is available.”
McKnight will also discuss other options with Waltham, including a straightforward senior or affordable housing project, or even one that would blend both elements in one or two buildings.
“The confluence of interest between us and the town of Waltham is what can we do to help, what will it look like and who can we serve that is not being served now,” he said.
McKnight said he is confident ACCT will find a proposal Waltham can back. All its properties operate in the black and have enough initial funding to ensure long-term maintenance, he said.
“I think that is something we’ve offered in the county, buildings that have fit in with the community and that are well-funded from the beginning,” he said.
If all goes well, McKnight can foresee breaking ground in 2012.
“We certainly want to get the property tied up and the plans made this year,” he said. “I would suspect we would need until next spring to put together the financing and start the project.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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