Vergennes sets zoning hearing on Armory Lane affordable housing

VERGENNES — A proposal for 24 affordable housing units in a 23,000-square-foot building on Armory Lane will get a public hearing before the Vergennes Development Review Board at 7:10 p.m. on Monday.
The project, a joint proposal of the Addison County Community Trust (ACCT) and Housing Vermont, could be built as soon as 2020 on a 6.52-acre parcel across the road from the Armory Lane senior housing facility.
The project requires a conditional use permit from the Vergennes DRB as a first step, and then Act 250 approval and other state permits — and then financing — before it can move forward.
Proposed are 14 one-bedroom units, nine two-bedroom units, and a three-bedroom apartment in a building that will be partly two and partly three stories.
Community Trust Executive Director Elise Shanbacker said the current project construction estimate stands at $5.3 million, but that number could move.
“We’ve got a couple scenarios going depending on the level of energy efficiency we’re able to achieve,” Shanbacker said.
Funding will rely on a combination of Low Income Housing Tax Credits, which Shanbacker said would be the largest part of the package, and grants from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board and Vermont Community Development Program.
That last program awards Community Development Block Grants to towns that host projects, meaning Vergennes would be a co-applicant and city council cooperation would be required.
A public hearing would also be part of that process. A public hearing will also be part of the project’s upcoming Act 250 permit process, Shanbacker said, assuming it receives DRB conditional use approval.
Ideally, according to the ACCT and Housing Vermont application, construction could start later this year. But Shanbacker said next year is also a possibility.
“It’s a very competitive round this year for some of the funding sources we’re pursuing. But we have a high degree of confidence we’ll get funded within the next two years,” she said.
DRB Chairman Peter Garon, stressing he could only speak for himself and not the entire board, said he saw no obvious flaws with the application, but the DRB would listen to testimony.
“I did not see anything that struck me,” Garon said. “We certainly will be hearing from other interested people.”
According to the project’s DRB application, eight units “will be affordable” to households earning less than 50 percent of the area’s median income, 10 “will be targeted” to households earning less than 60 percent of the median income, and six “will be available for rent as workforce housing” to those making between 80 and 120 percent of the local median income.
Shanbacker said ACCT uses the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development median income numbers, which in 2017 were $73,400 for a four-person household, $58,800 for two people, and $51,400 for one person. Those numbers are set to change soon, she said.
Some apartments will almost certainly be occupied by seniors, Shanbacker said, as are about 40 percent of the 227 units that ACCT already manages around the county.
But unlike the existing senior housing across Armory Lane, the new units will not be specifically set aside for seniors, although some elements of apartment design will accommodate seniors’ needs, Shanbacker said.
“It won’t be age-restricted, but it is supposed to be attractive to seniors,” she said, adding, “We try to incorporate universal design features to the extent that we can in all of our properties.”
Plans also call for 37 parking spaces to the west of the building, a sidewalk leading to a crosswalk that will link to the sidewalk on the opposite side of Armory Lane, porches around the front and rear entrances, and a play area and vegetable garden on the building’s east side.
Per the application, “vegetated fire access lanes” will curl around the building’s north and south ends. No employees are planned for the building, which will offer on-site laundry and storage and a “lounge/library.”
According to a traffic study for a 25-unit building included with the application, the project will add 83 cars to the morning peak traffic hour and 97 cars to the afternoon peak traffic hour.
According to the application, the new building will at its closest point be 220 feet from the senior housing structure, 335 feet from American Legion Post 14, and 700 feet from the nearest home.
“We’ve designed the building to fit in with the neighborhood,” Shanbacker said. “The three-story part is further away from the road.”
ACCT also researched the need for such a project, she said. 
“We’ve completed a market study,” Shanbacker said. “There’s a strong market, in particular for smaller units, one- and two-bedroom units.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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