A proposal to construct a five-story, 57-unit affordable-housing complex at the run-down Hendrie’s Ice Cream site in Milton will receive its first public hearing on Thursday before the town’s zoning board.
The project — said to be the first proposal filed in Milton under the state’s Chapter 40B affordable-housing law, which allows developers to circumvent certain local zoning restrictions — follows years of difficult negotiations between the developer and the town, which also owns part of the Hendrie’s property.
It also comes as Milton officials brace themselves for the filing of two other affordable-development proposals, which have been given state eligibility but have yet to be submitted as formal applications to the town.
In the Hendrie’s project, father-son developer duo Jerry and Steve Connelly negotiated a proposal with town officials from 2010 to 2012 to build some 30 housing units plus commercial space on the property, where the Connellys own one portion and the town owns the other. But Planning Board officials denied the special permit in December 2012 because they thought the project was too massive and did not meet required zoning setbacks, said William Clark, Milton’s planning director.
“It was little terms, little things, that seemed to make this thing somehow go off track,” said Alexander Whiteside, chairman of the Planning Board. “So it’s very frustrating seeing this 40B application go ahead, because it didn’t have to be like this.”
Despite several meetings between town officials and the developers in hopes of fixing the mixed-use proposal, the Connellys applied in 2013 for eligibility to build an affordable complex, where 25 percent of the units would be deemed affordable under state law. The state gave the green light in June for the project, which would set the development solely on the Connellys’ side of the almost 1-acre property, most of which is owned by the Connellys.
Milton planning officials vehemently opposed the project’s eligibility in an April letter to the state, saying the proposed complex is too large and would negatively affect traffic, public safety, and town services.
“It’s the density and the massing,” Clark said. “It’s too close to the street, and it’s too big.”
Peter Mullin, a Town Meeting member who lives near the site, said he fears the proposed five-story building would loom over the smaller homes in the area, and that parking and traffic woes would subsequently arise.
“It looks like the development is very dense and that parking is going to be a major problem,” Mullin said.
But Peter L. Freeman, an attorney who represents the Connellys, said he “respectfully disagreed,” noting that the property “is a good site for affordable housing.”
“We are proposing a good project,” Freeman said. “We’re very confident that the design being set forth does fit in with the neighborhood.”
Jerry Connelly said he and his son turned to proposing an affordable complex after the town denied their mixed-use project.
“We felt like the only option left was 40B,” Connelly said. “I think it would be very good for the town — and the town needs it.”
Connelly said he thought concerns over the size of the development and traffic proved “a weak argument,” noting that the development will have more than 70 parking spots and that commercial space would have exacerbated traffic more than a residential building.
“In the town of Milton, some people don’t like anything you do,” Connelly said. “That’s the way we’ve been treated. We’ve been trying to do this the past seven or eight years, and no matter what we come up with, they say they don’t like it.”
Clark said the town “would like to get them [the developers] back to the table” to negotiate again on a mixed-used development. But Freeman said that although his client is open to talking, he would not abandon the 40B proposal.
“It didn’t work out with the town,” Freeman said. “There were proposals [to buy the town’s portion of the site], and the town hasn’t accepted.”
Town officials released a request for proposals in 2013 to sell Milton’s part of the property, but Clark said they could not sell below the appraised value, which he said ranges from $240,000 to $400,000. Connelly reportedly offered to buy it for $1,000, which the town refused.
“We would have to jump through hoops to sell it at anything but fair-market value,” Clark said.
If the proposal moves forward, Clark said the fate of the town’s adjacent parcel is unknown. However, he did say the value of the parcel would probably increase no matter what.
“With or without the 40B, we’ll be taking down our portion of the building,” Clark said. “That should increase the property value.” Town officials put out a request for bids Friday to demolish its 9,300-square-foot part of the Hendrie’s building.
The first hearing for the 40B proposal is slated to take place at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Milton Town Hall.
Meanwhile, the town also expects to see two other affordable-housing applications filed in the near future. The state recently gave approval to developer Mill Creek Residential to submit an application for 276 units over 20 acres on Brush Hill Road, dubbed the Milton Mews. It also approved developers at The Holland Companies for 72 units over about 8 acres at 711 Randolph Ave., according to state and town documents.
Former Board of Selectmen chairman Denis Keohane wrote to the state in 2013 and again in March, objecting to each project, citing “adverse impacts to public safety, the environment, and historical and archaeological resources” for the Milton Mews and “adverse impacts to traffic, public safety, the environment and town services” for the Randolph Avenue proposal.
The developers would have to receive a comprehensive permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals to move forward.
Under Chapter 40B, the state law that encourages affordable-housing construction, certain exemptions from local zoning bylaws are allowed for projects in towns where less than 10 percent of the housing stock is considered affordable by the state.
Milton’s affordable housing stock is 4.5 percent of its total residential units, which makes the town vulnerable to such developments.
Clark said the Hendrie’s development would probably bump that amount up to 5.5 percent, and even if the other two proposals end up passing, the town still would not surpass the 10 percent threshold.