40 ‘workforce housing’ units proposed for Middlebury
MIDDLEBURY — A Williston company is seeking permission to build a three-story, 40-unit apartment building off Middlebury’s Court Street that would provide “moderate affordable housing.”
The approximately 43,000-square-foot building would be built on a 1.2-acre lot in Middlebury South Village (MSV), a planned unit development that already includes a mixture of housing, businesses and offices between Creek Road and Middle Road.
The parcel in question had in 2014 been slated to host 16 townhouses proposed by Burlington’s Retrovest Companies.
But Retrovest abandoned the townhouses plan, thereby freeing up the land for another suitor. That suitor has emerged in the form of Milot Real Estate, for which Brett Grabowski is director of development.
“You kind of go where the opportunity is,” Grabowski said of his company’s interest in Middlebury South Village. “This lot went on the market for sale, and it all starts with the price of the land. If you can get the parcel for the right price, then everything follows suit.”
Grabowski also pointed to the geographical advantages of MSV. Located on the southern periphery of Middlebury village, MSV is walking distance to The Centre shopping plaza, restaurants and Middlebury public schools. South Village also features a network of roads and sidewalks and hosts the Addison County offices of several state agencies. The apartment building would be situated behind the new Middlebury Pediatric Dentistry business at 132 South Village Green.
“It seemed like a great opportunity,” Grabowski said of the housing potential for the MSV parcel.
This would be Milot Real Estate’s first Middlebury project. Grabowski believes there is ample demand in Addison County for additional affordable housing. He said the project would feature “workforce housing” that could accommodate young individuals and families.
“The bottom line is workforce housing is for people making more or less the median income in Addison County,” Grabowski said. “The national criteria for (rental) housing is that it should not cost more than 30 percent of any person’s income.”
The median household income in Addison County, according to the most recent federal census figures, is just under $60,000 annually.
While Grabowski has yet to finalize specific monthly rents for the apartments, he believes they will amount to around $900 to $1,000 for the one-bedroom units and $1,200 to $1,400 for the two-bedroom units. Heat and hot water would be included in all the rents, he added. Half of the proposed 40 apartments would have two bedrooms, with the other half having a single bedroom, according to Grabowski.
By comparison, Retrovest in 2014 had tentatively priced its proposed townhouses at around $300,000 per unit. Retrovest had hoped to attract interest from older buyers or empty-nesters looking to downsize from larger homes.
KEEPING YOUNG PEOPLE
State and local officials have been stressing the importance of creating more affordable housing in an effort to keep more young Vermonters in state. Vermont high school and college graduates have been leaving the Green Mountain State in discouraging numbers in order to land higher paying jobs and settle in cheaper housing in other states.
“It’s 40 units, so it’s not a lot,” Grabowski said of his project. “I think there’s a significant pent-up demand (in Middlebury), from a number of people I have spoken with. There are a lot of people who would like to live in Middlebury who work in Middlebury, but they don’t have a lot of housing options.”
The Middlebury Design Advisory Committee took a look at Grabowski’s plans on Feb. 3. The panel primarily asked questions about the massing, aesthetics, landscaping, lighting and parking plans for the project.
Jennifer Murray, Middlebury’s director of planning and zoning, offered some of her preliminary observations about the Milot Real Estate application.
“From a planning perspective, there is currently a shortage of both high-quality, market rate and affordable rental housing in Middlebury, so even though these are anticipated to lease at market rate, they are still meeting a need in our community,” Murray said through an email. “Local employers, in particular the college and the hospital, would benefit from additional workforce housing in Middlebury. It’s also good planning practice to try to concentrate your residential growth in areas with ready access to goods and services, within existing water and sewer service areas. This area has really emerged as a lively little node of development south of the town center. This project would be a good opportunity to add residential density within walking distance of shopping, transit and recreational opportunities in a location that already features the necessary water, sewer and storm water infrastructure.”
Middlebury’s Development Review Board will next take a look at the apartment building proposal. A favorable review could lead to construction as soon as this summer, according to Grabowski.
Meanwhile, the 2017 state Legislature continues to explore ways of boosting workforce housing. Rep. Fred Baser, R-Bristol, is again establishing himself as a leader in the effort. He has introduced, and is co-sponsoring, a couple of bills to promote workforce housing. Chief among them is H.163, which would authorize the Agency of Commerce and Community Development to authorize up to five communities to incur debt to support a “workforce housing pilot project.” Those communities would be allowed to use Vermont House Finance Agency loans, or tax increment financing (TIF), to repay the debt. TIF provides the ability to capture and use most of the increased local property tax revenues from new development in a specific geographic area to pay back investments on the infrastructure (such as water, sewer connections) to help make that new development possible.
Only nine Vermont municipalities currently have the ability to use TIF. Baser’s bill requests lifting that cap, or at least allowing towns to use TIF exclusively for workforce housing projects.
“The need for building workforce housing is definitely there,” Baser said. “I think there’s a demand in almost every county in the state.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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