Affordable housing eyed for Waltham

WALTHAM — Despite some citizen questions at a May 13 Waltham Development Review Board hearing, Waltham and Addison County Community Trust (ACCT) officials say a proposed 14-unit affordable housing development on the Waltham-Vergennes border remains on track.
The DRB has set a second hearing for 6:30 p.m. on June 23 on the ACCT’s roughly $3 million proposal for seven modular duplexes on a 2.3-acre parcel served by municipal water and sewer. It will be held in Waltham Town Hall.
The ACCT is seeking a conditional use permit that would allow those duplexes to be installed on a Maple Street Extension site that until 2009 housed the Gevry Trailer Park. Plans call for a new access road and a larger turnaround.
Vermod, a company based in the town of Wilder, will build the duplexes. They would be leased to families making 60 percent or less of the county’s median income, according to officials of ACCT, which already owns and operates many trailer parks in Addison County, including in Vergennes, Middlebury, Bristol, Starksboro and Ferrisburgh.
Because Gevry Park had been unoccupied for years, some residents in May raised the issue of abandonment. But Waltham DRB chairman Terry Evarts said town officials believe the park technically has not been abandoned and is grandfathered under town and state laws for 14 units.
Evarts called that the “single biggest issue” for town officials to resolve, but noted the park’s owners — Rheal and Gail Gevry — have taken care all the relevant bills as if the 14-unit park had been operating.
“The property taxes were paid on it. The water tax, the sewer tax, it’s all been paid,” Evarts said, adding, “Abandoned implies that you would disconnect those services and you wouldn’t be paying those taxes.”
Evarts also noted the park — like most in Vermont do in their respective towns — predates Waltham’s 10-acre zoning in force in the area. State law smiles on trailer parks, he said.
“The state overall seems to be quite supportive that trailer parks in Vermont be maintained because … they are a significant source of affordable housing, and almost all of them predate local zoning,” he said.
Finally, Evarts said Waltham’s town plan, which expired this past September and is being rewritten with a similar 10-acre provision, supports affordable housing near Vergennes. 
The DRB last month also gave the ACCT a list of expectations for the trust to meet, including a complete landscaping design, something neighbors also were concerned about; a boundary survey; a plan to have a manager live onsite, another issue for neighbors; a formal agreement with the city of Vergennes that the site will be served with sewer and water; sample lease agreements for tenants; and a plan to deal with site contamination from leaky fuel tanks onsite.
ACCT Executive Director Elise Shanbacker described Waltham officials as “very supportive,” and said she believes the trust can meet those expectations.
“They want to make sure that the project is the best it can be from their perspective, and it is going to be an integral piece of their community,” Shanbacker said. “So ACCT is more than happy to work with them toward that end. So the additional pieces of the conditional use application that they’ve requested, we’re working on putting together, and anticipate being able to have met those conditions satisfactorily at the next DRB meeting on the 23rd.”
Specifically, Shanbacker said ACCT:
• Has hired LandWorks to complete the landscape design, including fencing.
• Believes existing surveys in Vergennes’ and an abutting landowner’s possession will satisfy the survey requirement.
• Is working with its financing sources to ensure it can house an onsite manager, something Shanbacker said is typical in its larger parks.
• Has “been working with the Department of Environmental Conservation very closely” to deal with a two-pronged approach to site contamination. Shanbacker said a plan “that meets or exceeds all state standards” will include removal of contaminated soils that will be disturbed by the construction and development process and “a cap and monitor” system to prevent spread of contamination elsewhere.
Shanbacker, who also noted former ACCT head Terry McKnight first discussed this project 13 years ago, has not yet talked formally with city officials about a formal sewer agreement. City Manager Mel Hawley said the existing agreement consists of “one line in the minutes” of a decades-old city council meeting, and city officials will seek to create a formal agreement modeled after their arrangement with the state to extend a line to the rail station next to the Agency of Transportation park-and-ride lot in Ferrisburgh. Shanbacker foresees no problem striking a deal.
Funding for the project, including for the land purchase, is also coming together, she said, with the affordable housing tax credits that will support more than half the price tag already in hand.  
“We’ve got a little over half the funding commitment in place,” Shanbacker said. “The next stage is getting Vermont Housing Conservation Board funding, and that will be hopefully occurring this month. And the last piece will be the Community Development Block Grant that the town of Waltham will be applying for on behalf of ACCT, and that award, if we were to get one, will happen in November.”
Evarts said town officials do have some homework to do for that funding — that latter grant will require the completion of the town plan rewrite.
“Important grants require that we have a town plan that is current,” he said.
Evarts is confident ACCT will do its part to provide what he called an important addition to Waltham — Gevry Park’s 2009 vacancy left a large hole in the town’s affordable housing sector.  
“I’m optimistic that the ACCT will be able to meet our requirements that protect the town of Waltham and meet their needs for this park, and by the same token recognize people have to have a home,” Evarts said. “It will all work out.”
If all does go according to plan, low-to-moderate income families could find new homes by the end of next year in what Shanbacker said is a tight county housing market.
“Now we’re looking at breaking ground and leasing fully in 2016,” she said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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