Interest In Building Affordable Housing Downtown Is Stirring

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Housing and homelessness

This Cove Road commercial property is being eyed for new housing.  ED MARONEY PHOTO

ORLEANS It seemed that from the ashes of Phoenix Fruit, affordable housing might rise.

Paul van Steensel of Cape Dreams Building and Design met informally with the affordable housing committee June 6 to discuss a plan to build six two-family townhouses and four one-bedroom apartments at 14 and 18 Cove Rd., now vacant office space and the former home of Phoenix Fruit. According to draft minutes of the meeting, the townhouses would be built first and sold at market rates while the apartments would be built later and rented at “affordable” prices.

The buildings at the former Cove Road Offices property are for sale for $725,000 through Old Cape Sotheby's. Van Steensel, who was accompanied at the meeting by David Lyttle of Ryder Wilcox and attorney Ben Zehnder, wanted the town to commit funds to a portion of the land to be purchased for the affordable units, about $210,000.

Van Steensel could not be reached for comment by press time. The committee's chairman, Tom Johnson, said he had heard subsequently that the developer was reconsidering the inclusion of affordable housing in the project. “That's fine,” Johnson said. “I think it's still a great development.”

George Meservey, director of planning and community development, said Van Steensel is “welcome to figure out his finances and do something that makes economic sense. If at the time he finishes that evaluation and is interested in doing affordable units, I think the (affordable housing) trust would entertain an application.”

With town meeting's recent approval of a new affordable housing trust, and action to fund it at town meeting and the ballot box, other developers may be looking for such support as well. The selectmen have yet to appoint the members of the new trust, which will require only the selectmen's approval rather than town meeting's to enter into such projects.

The town is still waiting for the attorney general to approve creation of the new trust (she has 90 days from the May town meeting to do so), said Meservey. “Then the selectmen will solicit and appoint trustees, and they'll do some training to get going. We've got some work ahead of us before we functionally can use the trust, but it's a tremendous step forward to support the effort.”

“We encourage affordable housing conversions or developments to expand affordable housing opportunities in Orleans,” Johnson said. “We're hoping that with the CPC (community preservation committee) funds and the additional (tax levy) override that we'll have a little more horsepower to pursue opportunities. We're actively looking to identify those opportunities and certainly willing to talk to anybody who may have an idea and could maybe use a little help from the committee and, when approved, the municipal affordable housing trust.”

On June 6, the committee discussed town and state properties that might be used for affordable units. These included town land at 14 and 24 Salty Ridge Rd., off West Road; 139 Main St. (2.11 acres); 18 Bay Ridge Lane, three acres used by the highway department); and four state-owned acres behind John Avellar Circle.

“This was a follow-up to a prior discussion at a board of selectmen's meeting on properties identified as potential development parcels,” said Johnson. “We have a meeting tomorrow (July 11) to talk about these properties again and which would be most likely for a potential affordable housing development and how we may go about it.”

Although “none of them, near as I can tell, are immediately available,” he said, “we're trying to look into the future to make sure we're well positioned and well prepared to move forward if an opportunity presents itself.” Ultimately, he said, his committee will put together a package of recommendations regarding the properties for the selectmen.