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Kingston housing plan brings traffic worries

Kingston officials are planning to ask Town Meeting on April 6 for approval to spend almost $600,000 on a controversial property purchase for affordable housing for veterans.

The town’s Housing Authority is seeking $585,000 in Community Preservation Act funds to buy a 4-acre property with a five-bedroom house on Main Street in Kingston center, a site some neighbors complain will make a bad traffic situation worse. The property is near a busy intersection with Route 3A.

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The Housing Authority wants the town to buy the property with the idea of rehabbing the current house for up to eight eligible veterans and possibly using the land for building new affordable housing in the future.

Though the proposal to buy 200 Main St. from its current owners came up last fall, neighbors are objecting that they’ve just now learned about it on the eve of a big Town Meeting vote to appropriate funds for it.

Hillcrest Road resident Mary Boutin said the worry for the neighbors is not the house already on the site but the prospect of building more housing on the property that would flow cars onto Hillcrest. Traffic from the Housing Authority’s Meadowcrest senior housing currently pours into Hillcrest, making for a dangerous intersection.

“I’m not negative toward more housing, just don’t dump more traffic on us,” Boutin said. “I’ve had many close calls.”

She also pointed to the high crash rate at the intersection of Main Street and Route 3A reported in a study conducted two years ago by the Old Colony Planning Council. The study showed a crash rate there four to five times higher than at other intersections in town.

“There was a lot of opposition, as there usually is in affordable housing,” Don Ducharme, vice chairman of the Kingston Housing Authority, said of last week’s public hearing on the project when neighbors crowded a meeting room and many spoke against it.

“Most of the opposition was directed to the traffic issue,” Ducharme said. “It’s a valid issue. . . . Do I like the concept of adding to our stock of affordable housing and housing veterans? I absolutely do. . . . But the traffic is a problem. It must be confronted.”

Ducharme, who is also a member of the town’s Community Preservation Committee, said the committee backed the plan to allocate funds for the purchase from the Community Preservation Act, a program that raises money from a local surtax plus a state supplement for open space preservation, historic preservation, and affordable housing.

However, since CPA funds can only be used to buy property for the town, the Town of Kingston rather than the Housing Authority would own the property while the authority would administer the housing.

Town selectmen then made an offer of $525,000 before settling with the owners on a price of $575,000. The town is seeking $10,000 more (for a total of $585,000) to cover legal costs to put affordable housing and historic preservation restrictions on the property.

But neighbors on Main Street and Hillcrest Road complained last week that officials were seeking to ram through a project before performing a needed traffic study of the project’s impact on already overstressed roads.

The 200 Main St. property backs on to Hillcrest Road, where an existing Housing Authority residence for 50 seniors adds to neighborhood traffic woes.

Neighbors also complained that they haven’t been informed about a project likely to have an impact on their lives.

While the meeting dates and agendas for the Community Preservation Committee meetings at which the proposal was discussed were properly posted, officials conceded that neighbors often don’t learn about projects until just before Town Meeting, when they appear on the meeting warrant.

“It’s pretty typical to get it this late,” said Acting Town Administrator Nancy Howlett. “It doesn’t mean it’s right. The [Community Preservation Committee] meetings are generally attended only by people who make the proposals.”

Howlett said selectmen, who were in the loop because they were negotiating the purchase, raised the issue of sounding out neighbors.

“They were concerned about just dropping it on Town Meeting,” Howlett said.

Ducharme said the difficulty of keeping the public abreast of major projects is built into the “process” of local government decision-making and property transactions. Though the preservation committee began looking into the idea of buying the property for affordable housing months ago, he said, every step in information-sharing or approval takes a meeting by boards that meet only a couple of times a month. And by their nature, property transactions are often on-and-off affairs.

Ducharme compared neighbors’ response to the deal to complaints about the town’s wind turbines. The turbines were long in the planning with plenty of public meetings, but some residents said they were unaware of the project.

Affordable-housing projects have proved “very difficult to get through” throughout the state even though Community Preservation Act funds are specifically targeted for their use, he said. The only example in Kingston Ducharme knew of was a $50,000 contribution to a Habitat for Humanity house.

It will be a long time before anything happens on the site, officials said, even if Kingston’s open Town Meeting approves funds for the deal. A plan to renovate the existing house and bring it up to code for income-eligible veterans would cost an estimated $1 million. And while the Community Preservation Committee has placed the proposal on Town Meeting’s agenda, the committee may choose to withdraw it if members decide the plan isn’t ready for a vote.

Town Meeting begins at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Kingston Intermediate School. If voters don’t finish the agenda, the meeting will continue Monday evening.

Robert Knox can be reached at rc.knox2@gmail.com.
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