Shoreham land eyed for affordable housing

THIS IMAGE SHOWS the concept of an affordable/workforce housing development on Shoreham’s town-owned land off Main Street (at the bottom of the image) and Route 22A (to the right). A local ad hoc committee and the Addison County Regional Planning Commission are exploring the housing concepts, which will be showcased for public feedback at the Sept. 19 Shoreham Apple Festival.

You would have walkable, multi-income, multi-age housing opportunities.
— Katie Raycroft-Meyer

SHOREHAM — This year’s Shoreham Apple Festival will boast more than the usual celebration of fruit, families and fun.

The highly anticipated event on Sept. 19 will also invite the public to view and give feedback on the potential for a large piece of town-owned land in the village to host a mixed-use development that would include affordable housing for individuals and families.

The focus is the so-called Farnham property, a 326-acre parcel in Shoreham Village that borders a sizable stretch of Route 22A and a small portion of Main Street. Town voters in 1999 agreed to purchase the land for $130,000. A small portion of it now hosts the community’s wastewater treatment facility. Another section is being set aside for passive recreational use, including walking trails.

But Shoreham officials believe the land could provide even more benefits to local residents — including new housing and a source of municipal gravel.

With that in mind, the town’s planning commission a few years ago formed the “Future Housing in Shoreham Village Working Group.” The eight-person panel landed a $15,000 grant last year and has been working with the Addison County Regional Planning Commission (ACRPC) to explore options for the Farnham land, including workforce housing, affordable housing, residences for seniors, and several market-rate abodes.

Katie Raycroft-Meyer, a community planner with the ACRPC, has developed a series of conceptual designs for a Farnham housing development. One shows a cluster of 18 to 20 units, some of them contained in multi-family buildings. The group believes some could be for rent, others for ownership, but all are positioned in a distinct neighborhood, complete with gardens and open space.

The design also includes the concept of a grouping of some market-rate homes behind the affordable/workforce housing.

“You would have walkable, multi-income, multi-age housing opportunities,” Raycroft-Meyer said on Thursday.

She was speaking during an interview with the Independent that included Linda Oaks and Linda Larrabee, who are members of the Farnham working group and serve as chair and vice chair, respectively, of the Shoreham Planning Commission.

“We show a community/commercial building that could be integrated into it,” Raycroft-Meyer added. “We show parks and gardens, a lot of community space. And we’ve talked about daycare.”

Officials stressed all of the plans are tentative and could change substantially depending on public feedback, the availability of housing grants, and the willingness of a nonprofit and/or private developer to take a Farnham project from the drawing board to construction.

The public conversation will start at the Shoreham Apple Fest on Sunday, Sept. 19, from noon to 4 p.m. A series of PowerPoint presentations will be offered in the Shoreham Community Center (formerly the Masonic Hall) in the village.

Participants will also have an opportunity to hop on a wagon for a hay ride to view the Farnham property and see what it could look like (weather permitting), chat with working group members, ask questions, enter to win local raffle prizes and share what makes Shoreham a “Community of Choice.”

It’s a community that has a lot to offer a new neighborhood, according to Farnham working group members.

The property in question is within walking distance from the local bank, town offices, school, inn and other village destinations.

Shoreham’s village wastewater treatment system could easily accommodate a Farnham housing project, according to Oaks and Larrabee, because only about 34% of the septic system’s capacity is currently being used.

And because Shoreham has received a “village designation” from the state of Vermont, the town is well-positioned to win tax credits and grants to help finance a Farnham project.

“We have the perfect setup for this type of (development),” Oaks said.

Next on the working group’s agenda is to apply for a “bylaw modernization grant” through the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development that would help Shoreham reassess and potentially rework its village zoning rules in a manner that could pave the way for the Farnham project and other “compact” housing schemes the community might find palatable.

“It’s to help small communities modernize their bylaws so they can get more housing in the downtown and village areas,” Raycroft-Meyer said of the grant.

Shoreham Village is currently zoned for half-acre lots, according to Oaks.

After receiving public feedback, Farnham project boosters will spend the coming months making the housing concept more attractive to prospective finance agencies and developers. Ultimately, they hope to develop a package that includes a thorough plan design, proof of wastewater disposal and power hookups, the potential for tax credits, and revised village zoning laws that dovetail with cluster housing.

Meanwhile, the Shoreham selectboard has been studying the potential of a gravel pit on a swath of Farnham property just north of the village septic system. Such a pit, officials reason, could generate sand and gravel that would no longer have to be purchased elsewhere to apply to town roads and street shoulders.

Raycroft-Meyer believes the pit and a housing development could coexist, in large part because hauling trucks could access the facility from Route 22A and not have to travel past the new homes.

Larrabee is hoping the community will choose to unlock the Farnham property’s great potential. She cautioned it could be a couple of years before the property could be developed.

“There have been conversations … about what we should do with this property,” she said. “Some people think we should leave it as it is, others feel like we should sell it. But no one has ever had an idea of what could be done with it.”

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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