$3M upgrade sought for Middlebury affordable housing

MIDDLEBURY — Two nonprofit organizations are seeking to make $3 million in upgrades to a combined total of 22 affordable housing units on North Pleasant Street and John Graham Court in Middlebury, improvements that would include a central pellet boiler to substantially reduce energy costs at the site.
The apartments at 31-37 North Pleasant St. and 31-56 John Graham Court are owned by the North Pleasant Street Housing Limited Partnership. Housing Vermont is currently a general partner and Addison County Community Trust (ACCT) is the property manager for the units, which have been dedicated for low-income families for the past 15 years. Those units are now in need of substantial refurbishment, according to Matt Moore, a member of the development team at Housing Vermont.
“We completed a rehab project there around 1997 and at that time did the best we could do,” Moore said on Monday. “That work included some interior renovations, some upgrades to energy, mechanical and electrical systems. But we are living in a different age now where there are some major energy efficiency upgrades that we can make to the property that would reduce our fuel use and make the property more sustainable over time.”
Specifically, Housing Vermont is looking to raze the L-shaped, single-story, eight-unit former motel building at John Graham Court and replace it with two energy-efficient structures. Those two townhouse structures would contain a combined total of eight two-bedroom units, plus a handicap-accessible apartment and a three-bedroom apartment. That motel building isn’t ideally suited to apartment dwellings, Moore explained.
“Fifteen years ago, we didn’t have an opportunity to take a hard look at (the future of the motel building) … but now we are able to do that,” he said. The two new buildings, Moore said, would be “modern, energy-efficient, quality construction and would look nicer, too.”
Replacing the motel building would also allow construction to comply with the town of Middlebury’s setback requirements, Moore noted. The motel structure is currently pushed right against the property line, according to ACCT Executive Director Terry McKnight. This in turn resulted in a substantial parking area being placed in front of the building, instead of parking spots being sited closer to individual apartment units.
“To move that building forward will give the site more continuity and room for people to use the yard,” McKnight said.
Plans also call for a two-unit apartment at 31 John Graham Court to be converted into a community room and laundry room. Directly adjacent to that structure would be a new silo for a wood pellet boiler that would heat the entire complex, as well as relocated dumpsters, a new mechanical room and maintenance office.
“We would be replacing five heating systems with one system,” Moore said.
McKnight said the communal pellet boiler could produce some huge energy savings. He noted ACCT’s new senior housing project on Armory Lane in Vergennes is equipped with a pellet boiler and solar hot water, components that are producing a 50-percent savings compared to conventional heat and hot water systems, according to McKnight.
Units in the two historic North Pleasant Street apartment buildings will also get some TLC, Moore said. The scope of that work is currently being reviewed by architects.
A proposed site plan for the project shows 15 fewer parking spaces (for a total of 29) that are more evenly dispersed around the units, and the same total of 22 apartments, one of which would be rented to an on-site manager. The plan also includes more landscaping and a new patio area with benches.
Housing Vermont and ACCT’s preliminary plans for North Pleasant Street and John Graham Court will be reviewed by the Middlebury Development Review Board on Monday, Dec. 10. Based on evaluations at that meeting, architects will further refine the project next spring. Moore hopes the roughly year-long construction work can begin next summer. Housing Vermont and ACCT will work with the organization Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects to make sure tenants displaced during construction will have temporary housing and related services until their rehabbed units are ready to be reoccupied, Moore said.
Officials stressed the fate and timing of the project hinges on $3 million in financing, the bulk of which would come from the sale of low-income housing tax credits and federal historic tax credits (related to the North Pleasant Street buildings).
“We will apply to the Vermont Housing Finance Agency for those tax credits in February,” Moore said.
Organizers will also apply for other potential funding sources through the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, the Vermont Community Development Program and Efficiency Vermont, according to Moore.
It will be some tough but important work in preserving what Moore and McKnight said is a very important nucleus of affordable housing near downtown Middlebury, where tenants have easy access to shopping, schools, public transportation and other services. Several of the North Pleasant Street/John Graham Court tenants receive project-based voucher subsidies through the federal Section 8 program.
“This has been affordable housing for over 15 years and we’d like to be able to keep that resource safe … and affordable for the long-term, especially given its location,” Moore said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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