Pennrose Chosen To Develop Housing Projects

by Alan Pollock

CHATHAM – Pennrose, a developer that has built more than 300 housing projects around the nation – including several on the Cape – has been chosen to develop affordable and workforce housing at the former Buckley property on Main Street and the Meetinghouse Road parcel.

The decision came from Town Manager Jill Goldsmith and was affirmed by a split vote of the select board and affordable housing trust Tuesday evening. A number of members of the public also opposed Goldsmith’s choice.

In all, six of the 10 committee members favored the Pennrose plan to build 48 rental units on the Main Street parcel and 42 rentals on Meetinghouse Road. The four dissenters — select board members Dean Nicastro and Cory Metters and housing trustees Karolyn McClelland and Bruce Beane — favored a competing proposal by the Housing Assistance Corporation to build 36 home ownership units on Main Street.

Next, the town will begin negotiating a land disposition and development agreement with Pennrose, which will then begin the process of starting a comprehensive permit application under Chapter 40B.

Goldsmith said the joint committee reviewing the proposals provided a “thorough and balanced evaluation” in a process that included “community engagement for over a year and a half.” She praised Pennrose for providing a detailed application and for retaining Union Studio architects.

“I think that they will really understand the development and what it should look like in Chatham in particular,” she said. Families are being regularly displaced from rental units in Chatham and are having to move against their will, reflecting the town’s severe lack of year-round housing, she said. While some have said that residents who own their homes are more tied to the local community, “I’ve been a renter in my life, and I don’t feel like I was less engaged or active in the community just because of the rental status,” she said.

While the proposals from the nonprofit developers would have required more financial investment by the town — HAC was requesting $5.4 million — the Pennrose proposal calls for the town to receive more than $1 million it could use in future housing projects.

Resident Elaine Gibbs opposes the choice of Pennrose, saying it isn’t about the quality of their proposal, “but because of their low price to avoid coming to voters for approval for additional funding.”

The town has repeatedly argued that firefighters, police officers, teachers and others need housing, but this proposal would not provide it, resident Anne Timpson said. “They want to put their hard-earned wages into an investment in the future,” rather than paying rent, she said.

Resident Rick Leavitt said the objective of the developments has been to create a mixture of affordable and workforce housing for the Main Street property. “That is not the Pennrose proposal. That commitment to voters needs to be fulfilled,” he said. The Pennrose plan calls for 32 of the 48 units to be rented to people making below the area median income (AMI), with 16 units reserved for those making up to 110 percent of AMI. Leavitt proposed negotiating with the developer to make those 16 units available for those earning up to 200 percent of the area median income, which better reflects the needs of the workforce.

Town Counsel Jay Talerman said there is an opportunity for the town to negotiate some changes to the developer’s plans in a 40B application, possibly to include the number of parking spaces, the size and shape of the buildings, the number of units, and whether they are rented or sold for ownership. “There is rarely an instance where the project leaves the zoning board the same as it came in,” he said. But the developer’s choice of rentals over home ownership units is linked to the subsidy that they receive for building the units and may be difficult to negotiate.

Nicastro said the decision to focus on only rental units is “backward-looking and a lost opportunity.” Recent press reports showed that the town of Barnstable is preparing a housing development with 50 home ownership units. “Why can’t we have that in Chatham?” he asked. Nicastro blasted the decision as “short-sightedly stuck in the past,” and said the town has made many other such decisions before.

The choice of Pennrose is really an opportunity gained, board member Jeffrey Dykens countered. The town has the chance to create a meaningful number of housing units “with a dedicated, experienced developer” while gaining money that the trust can use in the future to develop home ownership units in the future, he said.

While some complain that affordable housing renters might have no ties to Chatham, board member Shareen Davis argued that the same thing happens when out-of-towners buy expensive homes and move here. “We need to be investing in our community on all levels of income,” she said.

Michael Schell, chair of both the select board and the housing trust, denied claims that the joint committee has ignored the public’s concerns about density or the lack of home ownership units, saying the board members have researched and discussed the issues in detail.

“This has been a process in which every one of the issues that people have brought up tonight has been hashed out,” he said. The discussion was productive and considered both sides, “and sometimes one wins and one loses,” Schell said. He defended Goldsmith for her decision, saying she “ended up with the short straw” in the process. He also dismissed calls for the town to hire a consultant to conduct an independent financial analysis of the proposals, which he said are only designed to delay the process. Members of the housing trust and select board have extensive financial knowledge and have made “honest, independent, neutral judgements” about the numbers in the proposal, he said.

“I hope we can get together as a town and move to the next stage, taking into account the concerns that people have, taking into account as best we can what it takes to come to a consensus around a project that we all know we desperately need,” Schell said.

Pennrose is a national company that has offices in Boston. It has developed some 10,000 housing units in 15 states, and is currently redeveloping the former Cape Cod Five headquarters building in Orleans into 62-units of mixed income housing. The company recently withdrew a proposal for redevelopment of the Gov. Prence property in Orleans.