A 200-unit residential development in Plymouth planned under the state’s affordable-housing law is showing signs of moving forward, eight years after it was first proposed.
The Villages at Sawmill Woods is among six subsidized housing or mixed-use projects approved in town that have languished in the pipeline for years, some stymied by legal appeals and all by the grueling recession, according to Plymouth officials.
Construction delays, compounded by an increase in market-rate housing, primarily from the Pinehills development, have resulted in affordable housing falling to 3.3 percent of the town’s total housing stock, down from just over 4 percent two years ago, and well below the state-mandated minimum of 10 percent.
Contributing to the decline was the loss of close to 100 affordable rental units at Mayflower Village that became deregulated over the last two years.
“We certainly have a need here in Plymouth” for affordable housing, said Town Manager Melissa Arrighi.
Late last month, state environmental officials determined that the Villages at Sawmill Woods project does not require a comprehensive environmental impact report, having been approved under the affordable-housing law known as Chapter 40B. Chapter 40B exempts developers from local zoning restrictions in communities that have less than 10 percent affordable housing, as long as a certain percentage of the proposed units are set aside at below-market rates.
The decision serves as a small but tangible step on the road toward construction since the project, slated to have 60 affordable units, was first proposed in 2005 and approved in 2006. Neighbors launched an unsuccessful three-year-long appeal against applicant Sawmill Development Corp., owned by John E. Pomeroy and Charles Tringale.
The 200 condominium units are planned for 100 duplex-style buildings on a 58.4-acre site on Kathleen Drive in the town’s Manomet section. The project must meet 15 conditions set forth in the town’s comprehensive permit, as well as get approval from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection for a planned private waste-water treatment plant, said Lee Hartmann, Plymouth’s planning director.
Although she concedes to having reservations about the Sawmill Woods project, Arrighi said she welcomes the movement on the approved projects, some stalled for nearly a decade.
“That’s very good news,” she said, adding that representatives from A.D. Makepeace Cranberry Co. recently informed town leaders that the company would be moving forward with the first phase of a village-style community that would include 103 affordable units. The Makepeace project was approved by the town in 2008 but was shelved during the recession.
Other long-approved residential projects far from the construction stage include Bartlett Pond Pastures with 60 units (15 affordable); Twin Pines Farm with 20 units (five affordable); and Craneview Place with 16 units (four affordable).
The first phase of Seaport at Cordage Park, with 150 rental units (38 affordable), was also approved as a so-called smart growth project under the state’s Chapter 40R law, which allows communities to approve higher-density developments as long as they provide financial benefits to the town in specially zoned areas, such as town centers or near public transit hubs.
If all these projects are realized, and several existing units in town pending affordability status achieve it, the number of affordable-housing units in the town would increase from 740 to 1,016, or 4.56 percent, Arrighi said, citing a local housing report she commissioned earlier this year.
Bruce Arons, the town’s community development director, said with Pinehills and other developers increasing the town’s market-rate housing stock, and an economically driven demand for rentals instead of homeownership, the town will probably never reach the 10 percent mark in affordable housing. But, as outlined in its just-updated and approved Affordable Housing Plan, the town will continue its efforts to increase the number of affordable units, he said.
“You really want to be able to create the type of affordable housing that there is a need for,” Arons said. “Forty-five percent of homeowners in Plymouth spend more than 30 percent of their income on homeownership. . . .More than 54 percent of people who rent in Plymouth, it’s costing them more than 35 to 40 percent of their annual household income. That’s why we need affordable housing.”