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Medfield deals with affordable housing proposal

Medfield's options are few when it comes to a new 96-unit housing development proposed under the state’s affordable housing law, officials say, because the town currently falls below state-mandated minimums for those kinds of residences.

Still, as the developer and the town come to the table, officials and residents say they hope their concerns about traffic, storm-water runoff, and other issues will be heard. The developer has indicated a willingness to work with neighbors and authorities on their concerns.

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The Zoning Board of Appeals is conducting a series of public hearings concerning The Gatehouse Group's application to place four three-story buildings on a lot currently zoned for industrial use near the intersection of West Street and Route 27. The development — called The Parc at Medfield — would have one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments.

Residents and town leaders in Medfield meet with Gatehouse developers again on May 9 for the second of the Zoning Board's hearings on the proposal. The hearing is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m., and will be held in the Town Hall meeting room.

“The reality of the situation is that, were the Zoning Board to turn down the developer's application, it would be likely be granted on the state level by the Housing Appeals Committee,” said Osler Peterson, chairman of the Medfield Board of Selectmen.

‘People cut through coming from Needham and off the highway, going to Millis and Medway, and they cut down West Street. That area is going to become so much more congested.’

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Medfield's affordable-housing stock is 4.4 percent of the town’s total housing. By state law, Massachusetts municipalities that do not maintain an affordable stock of 10 percent or more become subject to developers who can override municipal bylaws when it comes to their applications to build new affordable units.

“If the ZBA puts limits or conditions in their approval that render the development uneconomic, then the Housing Appeals Committee can overturn those as well,” Peterson said. “So, the ZBA needs to thread the needle, in terms of doing what is best for the town without turning down the application.”

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In the Commonwealth, affordable housing means that the total cost of rent or mortgage plus utilities equals 30 percent or less of a qualifying household's annual income. That the town is below the state minimum on such stock, said Peterson, is the result of more than one missed opportunity.

More than 250 affordable units were at one point planned for the former Medfield State Hospital land, but that project has lingered in various stages of discussion for years. And while those units would have solved Medfield's affordable housing equation, Peterson said, a number of smaller projects have also failed to win the town's support.

“Let’s be realistic; it requires a tremendous and sustained effort to create 10 percent affordable housing in a community,” said Peterson. “I think it's easier for cities to get there than suburban communities.”

In addition to the 96 housing units, Gatehouse has described to the town some 158 parking spaces that would accommodate the proposed complex's new residents. Gatehouse officials have also said that the company would provide groundskeeping, trash pickup, plowing, and other servicesat the site.

Still, Medfield officials have voiced concerns.

“One of the things we discussed is our concern about density,” said Bonnie Wren-Burgess, chairwoman of the town's Affordable Housing Committee. “One side of that property is industrial, but across the street are single-family homes. Our affordable-housing guidelines that were adopted in either ’89 or ’99 — a long time ago — talked about much lower density, in terms of people per space.”

Carolyn Donahue, a resident of Baker Road, which is located close to the intersection of West Street and Route 27, said the traffic is already hectic in the neighborhood, and that the new development could make it worse.

“Especially in morning and evening,” she said. “People cut through coming from Needham and off the highway, going to Millis and Medway, and they cut down West Street. That area is going to become so much more congested.”

The Board of Health wants to consider the potential effect of storm water that could flow into neighboring wetlands from the proposed buildings and parking lot.

Fire truck access to the site has also been raised as an issue, and Michael Sullivan, town administrator, said better sidewalks and a bus stop are needed for schoolchildren and others who would come and go from the apartments.

Sullivan said it is too early in the process to estimate property tax revenue from the complex. He said it would be unlikely to offset all of the financial impact of the development on town services.

Whether the state affordable-housing law gives Gatehouse extra leverage or not, faced with these and other town concerns, officials at the company say they want to be a good neighbor to Medfield.

“Gatehouse has a strong history of working with communities to address their concerns to the greatest extent we can,” said Jim Koningisor, a development consultant for Gatehouse on the Medfield design. “All of these issues are issues we're happy to discuss with the town and the Zoning Board, and to the extent we can make modifications to address concerns, we're happy to work with the ZBA to do so.”

In Wareham, where Gatehouse is building another affordable-housing development — larger than Medfield's at about 130 units — town planner John Charbonneau said the process has been cooperative.

“I can't speak to site-specific things,” Charbonneau said. “But in Wareham we are very happy with the project, they have so far been a very good neighbor.”

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