A group of Norwood residents and officials is working to block a 296-unit affordable-housing project proposed on land designated for commercial use, saying the additional residents would put a huge burden on municipal services.
“It’s a lot. How are we going to accommodate it?” said resident Robert Gawlak, who lives near the land formerly owned by Polaroid, where the development is proposed. He said the nearly 300 new homes would put a strain on the police, fire, and school departments, and exacerbate the traffic problems along that stretch of Route 1A.
The Campanelli company, along with Hudson-based builder Thorndike Development, is looking to build Upland Woods, 11 three-story buildings of one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments on 23.65 acres of vacant land on Lower Road, within the old Polaroid site. The proposal, which needs to clear zoning hurdles because the land is in an economic development area, drew more than 150 residents to a May 28 meeting and goes before the zoning board again on July 9.
Pointing to already crowded conditions in the public schools, Selectman Allan Howard said at least three of the elementary schools are using portable classrooms because they are out of space.
“We cannot absorb it,’’ Howard said.
He said Upland Woods is just one of several large housing proposals in the pipeline.
He said he was told by a Campanelli representative to “pick his poison,” because the town would have to accept some affordable-housing proposal because it does not meet state-imposed goals. He said his answer was: “It’s a war. And you’re the first battle in this war for our town.”
Howard said it is unfair that the town is not allowed to count use of Section 8 certificates toward its state-mandated 10 percent affordable-housing threshold and that the town has a higher minimum level because it has more multifamily and other rental units than many other communities.
Both he and Gawlak said it was suggested to the developer that building housing for those 55 years and older be considered, but that was rejected.
Working to block the project on the state front is state Representative John Rogers. An amendment he included in a housing bond bill would prohibit any Chapter 40B, or affordable-housing, development from being built in an economic opportunity area within a city or town where the town has a Tax Increment Finance agreement related to the property.
Under the state Chapter 40B law, developers can receive waivers from some local restrictions if less than 10 percent of a city or town’s total housing units are subsidized low- to moderate-income housing units.
Under the Upland Woods plan, 25 percent — 74 apartments — would be designated as affordable, but because the units are rental property, all 296 would count toward the town’s inventory, which would be estimated to climb from 5.7 to 8 percent, according to the developer’s application.
Rogers said communities need some protection from developers who are quick to take advantage of the state’s affordable-housing law.
“With no limits on 40B, communities can be devastated by developers roaming the Commonwealth unbridled, unimpeded, unchecked, with no accountability to the community,’’ Rogers said in a written statement.
He said the property targeted for Upland Woods was declared an economic opportunity area by the town in 2009 and, under the state incentive program, the TIF agreements were meant to encourage job creation and stimulate business growth.
“My amendment reconciles these two laws and empowers communities to accommodate affordable housing while also promoting economic growth,” he said.
The amendment passed the House and was sent to the Senate.
In a statement, the developers said: “Campanelli has a long history of working closely and cooperatively with the town of Norwood and with the neighbors who are most immediately affected by development at Upland Woods since purchasing this land 10 years ago and subsequently redeveloping two properties on the site.”
The developers also stated that they will approach the latest efforts for the Upland Woods apartments the same way.
Campanelli officials declined to respond to questions about schools and other services.
Philip Riley, chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals, said he thinks it is unfortunate the board cannot consider the effects of a proposal on the schools and other town services in a 40B application. He said traffic and waivers from other restrictions are what is before the board.
In part to be more proactive and come up with a larger plan for town housing, officials are holding a workshop this Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in the Norwood Police/Fire Station community room. A consultant hired by the town will run the workshop, aimed at preparing a Housing Production Plan to be approved by the state. The plan could be used to help the town get a one-year reprieve from 40B proposals.
Debbie Holmwood, a member of the Planning Board, said Upland Woods does not need to go before that board, but said she personally feels strongly against it, in a large part because of the strain on the schools. She said 40B does not treat communities fairly.
“It’s not meant to bankrupt the blue-collar towns, and that’s what it’s doing,” she said.