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Medfield to get affordable housing complex

Medfield will see a 92-unit affordable housing complex built along West Street, after a town board last week approved the much-discussed project with conditions.

The Parc at Medfield, which will offer one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments, was approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals in a 2-0 decision, after the third member, chairman Robert Sylvia, resigned in protest over the vote.

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The town got the best deal it could have, given that the project falls under the state’s Chapter 40B law, said board member Russ Hallisey, who became acting chairman for the hearing after Sylvia’s resignation.

“A town has very little it can do in the review or denial of 40B projects,” he said. “The state has really tied our hands.”

The 40-year-old law, which is meant to encourage the construction of affordable housing, allows developers to bypass many local zoning rules in communities where less than 10 percent of the housing stock is considered affordable by the state. In Medfield, that number is about 4.4 percent.

The Gatehouse Group’s Parc at Medfield project is slated for a 9-acre property in an industrial zone and the town’s Aquifer Protection District; the site’s approval for a residential complex would be unlikely without the Chapter 40B provisions.

A local zoning board can deny a permit for a 40B project, but the law allows the developer to file an appeal with the state, and historically the oversight agency sides with the developer, said Hallisey.

“In that case, you end up back to square one with the project as originally presented, with essentially no input from the town on any conditions,” he said.

Sylvia could not be reached for comment on his decision.

The most significant concession the board got was a reduction in the number of units from 96 to 92, said Hallisey.

Other conditions attached to the board’s approval of the project include moving two of the four buildings a little farther from environmentally sensitive areas, such as wetlands and flood plains; requiring water-saving plumbing fixtures; adding some amenities like bike racks and outside benches; and installing “dark sky” outside fixtures to minimize light spillover on other properties.

Some residents in Medfield, which is dominated by single-family houses, say the project is much too large for the town.

“It’s been a very bitter pill for the town of Medfield to swallow,” said Shawn Collins, who followed the hearing process.

The land is unsuitable for the development, the project is too big, and the services needed by its residents will cost much more than what the property will generate in taxes, he said.

“Like many towns in Massachusetts, we are struggling very hard to meet our obligations to our schools, to our firefighters, to our policemen, and we don’t get much assistance from the state,” he said.

Collins said he is also concerned that 100 percent of the project’s apartments will be offered as affordable units.

“It’s just my personal impression that if you have a mixed development, some affordable housing and some market-rate, then I would think you would have a much more dynamic demographic range of people living there,” he said.

Collins added that every community has an obligation to provide affordable housing, but he feels Chapter 40B is not the best way to do it.

He also said he was particularly disappointed that Sylvia’s proposal to reduce the number to 60 units didn’t win approval.

The Gatehouse Group would not have agreed to 60 units, said Brian McMillin, vice president of the Mansfield-based development company.

He said the company is pleased to have won the permit, and will now focus on applying to the state for tax credit financing. The complex will cost $25 million to $30 million to build, he said.

“We don’t think it’s too dense,” said McMillin. “We think it’s properly sited. . .  Our approach to 40B is to try to present a proposal to a town that can work.”

The plan now is to have all the apartments be offered at below-market rates to households making 60 percent or less of the area’s median income, he said, but that could change based on market conditions.

Under the permit issued by the board, at least 25 percent of the units must remain affordable, set aside for tenants making no more than 80 percent of the area’s median income.

Lisa Kocian can be reached at lkocian@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeLisaKocian.
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