Oct 22

From the Town Administrator's Desk - October 22, 2021

Posted on October 22, 2021 at 10:01 AM by Tiffany Marletta

Fall Town Meeting Set for November 13
By Gregory T. Federspiel

The Selectmen have finalized the articles to be considered at a fall Town Meeting.  The meeting is scheduled for Saturday, November 13th starting at 1:00PM.  The meeting will take place in the gymnasium and auditorium, if needed, at the Middle High School.

The shift to a Saturday afternoon was made in part to ensure that there would be enough time to get through all the articles in one session as well as to be less disruptive to the schools.  Due to on-going concerns about COVID, we will be spreading out attendees first in the high school gym and, if necessary, in the auditorium.  We are arranging audio and video links between the two spaces to enable everyone to participate fully regardless of where they are seated.   Attendees will be asked to wear a face covering per CDC guidelines.  Sections will be set aside for attendees who are not vaccinated and/or who do not wear a mask.  Town Moderator Alan Wilson will have a set of health protocols for all to follow to minimize the risk of any disease transmission – part of the new normal as we continue to conduct the business of the Town while still dealing with COVID.

The warrant, or agenda for the fall Town Meeting contains 8 articles.  In brief, the articles are to:

  1. Relocate Chebacco Road as it passes through Town owned land in Hamilton:  The existing road easement and an unused easement are proposed to be discontinued and a new easement granted to allow the road to be moved away from Gravely Pond, the Town’s drinking water reservoir, and to provide better access to existing homes off Chebacco Road.  
  2. Fund the design of a new multi-purpose field at the old burn dump on Pine Street:   The Parks and Recreation Committee seek to create a new multi-use play field.  In anticipation of renovating Sweeney Park, the Committee is particularly anxious to have an alternative field available when Sweeney will not be available as well as to meet the longer term needs of more field space.  
  3. Fund the replacement of the Harbormaster boat:  The old Eastern boat, which is the primary work boat for the Harbormaster, needs to be replaced.  Waterways funds are proposed to pay for a new boat and motor as well as to make repairs to another motor for the pump-out boat.
  4. Renumber the Zoning Regulations:  The Planning Board proposes to renumber and reformat portions of the Town’s Zoning Regulations. This first vote on what will eventually be a comprehensive re-write of the regulations makes no changes to the wording of the rules except for renumbering various sections.
  5. Delete obsolete sections of the Zoning Regulations:  In this vote, voters are asked to approve deleting 7 sections of the regulations deemed to be no longer applicable or made obsolete by various court decisions.  
  6. Provide a non-binding vote on adding the existing DPW site off Pleasant Street to a larger housing initiative of the Manchester Affordable Housing Trust (MAHT) and Manchester Housing Authority (MHA):  The MHA and MAHT have joined forces to seek a new partnership with a private developer.  Creating market rate homes on the existing DPW site would generate funds to subsidize the upgrading and expansion of affordable units at the Plains, Newport Park and along Loading Place Road.
  7. Vote on a citizen petition article to amend the zoning regulations to require two points of access and egress for larger development projects (defined as over 50 units and road length of over 500’.)
  8. Vote on a citizen petition article aimed at amending the zoning regulations to place a cap on the number of new dwelling units allowed yearly (50 units a year.)

In the remaining weeks leading up to the fall Town Meeting, additional details on these articles will be provided. The full warrant can be found on the Town’s web site.    

Oct 15

From the Town Administrator's Desk - October 15, 2021

Posted on October 15, 2021 at 8:55 AM by Tiffany Marletta

Affordable Housing and “Safe Harbor”
By Gregory T. Federspiel

With a 40B comprehensive permit application now before the Zoning Board of Appeals, the question has arisen whether the Town can claim a “safe harbor” from such an application and not allow the application to proceed.  To answer this, one must dive into the details of state law regarding 40B projects and the rules governing the administration of a town’s Subsidized Housing Inventory or SHI.  

Before getting too far into the details, it is worth reviewing what qualifies as affordable housing and what is the current inventory in Manchester.  Under 40B, the State has set a target of at least 10% of a community’s housing be “affordable.”  The State’s SHI is the official listing of dwelling units that qualify.  To be counted as affordable, a unit must be permanently deed restricted to remain affordable and the occupants chosen through a fair housing marketing process.   To be affordable, a family earning up to 80% of the area’s median annual income, adjusted for family size, should not be spending more than 30% of their income on housing costs. Put another way a family of three earning $88,000 with monthly utility costs of $200/month should pay no more than $2000 a month on rent or a mortgage.  Someone at 50% of area median income should pay no more than $1240 a month.  

Currently we have 115 units on the State’s SHI or 5% of our year-round housing stock.  Most of these units are owned and operated by the Manchester Housing Authority (84 units).  Another 26 units are located at 10-12 Summer Street and the last five units were added as part of the Town’s inclusionary zoning provisions (new developments that were required to provide them.)  

The recent purchase of the Powder House Lane complex with its 29 units by the North Shore CDC with substantial citizen support is not part of our official SHI.  State regulations require that a tenant or owner of a unit must have gone through a fair housing marketing process (essentially a lottery system) to qualify to be on the SHI.  The Town has asked the State to consider units and the occupants who otherwise qualify except for not having gone through a lottery system, but with such a system in place for any future vacancy, also be allowed to be listed on our SHI.   This would allow qualified tenants to remain in place while still incentivizing towns to convert existing housing to be permanently affordable.  

The SHI is a key factor in determining whether a Town can claim a “safe harbor” and deny, without the option of an appeal, a poorly located 40B project.  There are three options for achieving safe harbor.

One is having 10% or more of a community’s housing stock listed on the SHI.  We are at 5%.

Another way is to have 1.5% of our buildable land mass dedicated to affordable housing.  For Manchester this would mean some 68 acres of land – we are currently at about 10 acres.

The third way is to show annual progress on the community’s housing production goals.  This is most directly measured by how many units are added to the SHI annually toward the goal of achieving the 10% threshold.   Manchester needs another 113 units.   Adequate annual progress is normally set at 10% of this needed new amount.  Thus, we need to be adding 11 units a year.  Sometimes it is possible to show adequate progress even though a community has not met the calculated figure.  However, such an approach is harder to get approved.  This may be another avenue the Town pursues.      

Without safe harbor, the ZBA will proceed to hold hearings on the project proposed for Shingle Hill.  The first hearing is scheduled for October 26.  At the conclusion of the hearing process, the ZBA will either issue a permit with various conditions or it will vote to deny the project.  The applicant will have the option of appealing the decision to the Housing Appeals Committee.  

Oct 08

From the Town Administrator's Desk - October 7, 2021

Posted on October 8, 2021 at 9:40 AM by Tiffany Marletta

40B Project Enters Permitting Phase
By Gregory T. Federspiel

On September 27, 2021 Strategic Land Ventures (SLV) filed their application with the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) for a comprehensive permit for a proposed 136 unit apartment complex on Upper School Street on property across from Atwater Avenue known as Shingle Hill. The ZBA has scheduled their first public hearing on the project for October 26, within the required 30 days of receiving the application.   The hearing will be held virtually over Zoom.  The link can be found on the agenda posting for the meeting in the calendar section of the Town’s web site.  

As a 40B project, the applicant is proposing to deed restrict 34 units (25%) as permanently affordable per state guidelines and seeks waivers from our local zoning and wetland regulations to construct the project. The Board of Selectmen, after months of negotiations with the applicant in an unsuccessful attempt to agree on a so called “friendly” 40B project, submitted a list of significant concerns they have along with concerns expressed by other groups about the proposed project to MassHousing.  Despite our request to the contrary, MassHousing issued a project eligibility letter to the applicant, allowing the project to move forward with an application to the ZBA.  MassHousing, in their project eligibility letter, requested that the applicant address the concerns raised as they present the project to the ZBA.  In essence, MassHousing punted the project to the ZBA leaving it up to the comprehensive permitting process to work through the concerns.

The ZBA has six months to complete its review of the project unless the applicant agrees to an extension.   During the six-month period, numerous public hearings will be held by the ZBA.  The Town has applied for technical assistance from MassHousing Partnership to provide guidance to the ZBA as they go through the permitting process.   A specialist well versed in the 40B comprehensive permitting details will be assigned to the ZBA. Town Counsel will also help the ZBA navigate this new to them permitting process.

The process will include hiring, at the applicant’s expense, various professionals who will review the applicant’s submittals regarding concerns such as traffic and public safety access, environmental impacts, including stormwater runoff management and the adequacy of on-site wastewater disposal, and financial feasibility. The peer reviewers will assist the ZBA in the more technical aspects of the proposal.  

During the ZBA hearings, testimony will be provided by the applicant, by the peer reviewers, by Town Department heads and Town Boards and Committees as well as abutters and possibly other concerned residents and groups. The hearings are formal, quasi-judicial proceedings and will unfold in a methodical manner.  

At the conclusion of the hearings, the ZBA must issue a decision within 40 days.  Three basic options exist: approving the project as presented, approving the project with various conditions/modifications, or denying the project.  The ZBA’s decision is appealable by the applicant to the State’s Housing Appeals Committee.  Other aggrieved parties may appeal to the Land Court or Superior Court.  (A guide to the 40B process is on the Town’s 40B page.)

The proposed 40B represents an unusually large project for Manchester.  Additionally, the proposed site contains numerous public safety and environmental challenges.  As we saw during the process of trying to negotiate a project that the Selectmen could support, the issues involved are complex and invoke strong reactions from residents.  As we enter this next phase, no doubt these same issues and the strong opinions surrounding them will come back to the fore.