Affordable Housing Trust Sets Eyes On Oak Street Property

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Harwich , Housing and homelessness , Affordable housing , Economic development

HARWICH — The affordable housing trust set a few housing development priorities last week and plans to work with the Massachusetts Housing Partnership to evaluate potential housing locations and the number of units that can be placed on certain lots.

After considering several available lots, the trust settled on investigating the housing potential of land on Oak Street.

The partnership is a quasi-state agency established under general law which works with privately-funded non-profit organizations to establish affordable housing. The partnership comes under the umbrella of the state Department of Housing and Community Development. Its mission is to “use private investment to bring more affordable housing to Massachusetts.”

The trust is examining the parcels transferred to it in the May town meeting to develop affordable housing. MHP will be working with the trust, providing technical assistance, weighing site constraints and shaping a preliminary engineering report recommending the number of units for a particular site. The partnership can also help with locating money to assist with such projects.

Laura F. Shufelt, assistant director of community assistance for the partnership, met with trust members last Thursday. Shufelt said she was seeking the priorities of the trust so she could narrow down which parcel would best serve the community in an initial housing development project. She is familiar with the properties available as she has walked them with staff.

Shufelt is also familiar with Harwich, having worked with the late Bob Murray, founder of Harwich Ecumenical Council for Housing, when he was housing director in Falmouth. Shufelt worked on a HECH project proposing housing on one of the lots under scrutiny.

The lots the trust was seeking to set priorities for were a 43,560-square-foot parcel at 0 Depot St. in North Harwich; the 1.11acre parcel at 265 Sisson Rd., which includes the historic schoolhouse used by Cape Cod Theatre Company; five parcels totaling the 28.11 acres off Depot Road in South Harwich; and two adjacent lots at 0 Oak St., one 1.58 acres and the other 1.32 acres.

Once a preliminary engineering report and site feasibility assessment is done, MPH will recommend the number of units suitable for the site, whether rental or home ownership makes the most sense, and then work with a developer to create the development.

“What we really need is rentals,” Selectman Donald Howell said.

Town Administrator Christoper Clark, chair of the trust, agreed. But member Larry Brophy said home ownership should be considered as well. Shufelt, however, said the state doesn’t have any money for home ownership projects.

“We want something really doable,” Howell said of the trust’s vision. “We want to demonstrate to the public we can have success.”

Referring to the Sisson Road parcel, Shufelt said an affordable housing proposal by HECH a decade ago got “quite a way down the road there” and there should still be plans around from the project. That project was also tied to a HECH affordable housing development at the West Harwich Schoolhouse. HECH backed out of the two projects because of costs associated with a pollution plume running under the West Harwich School house.

She also pointed out there is an agreement with HJT to lease the Sisson Road schoolhouse through 2034. There is a reference in the lease stating there could be housing there in the future, Clark said. There was agreement that the location has housing potential. Town Planner Charleen Greenhalgh pointed out the Sisson Road parcel is in the Harwich Center Historic District.

The Depot Road site has some design issues related to vernal pools, Shufelt said. She also said there are access issues, but those can be overcome. Speaking of the 28-acre site, she recommended “before you go bigger, you want a lot of success.”

The trust focused on the two Oak Street parcels just north of the entrance to Cranberry Valley Golf Course. There are potential wetland issues relating to an old cranberry bog and it was agreed to have Conservation Administrator Amy Usowski determine if it is considered a wetland. Trust members agreed there could still be the potential for 12 units there. It will take at least five units to qualify for state rental housing funds, Shufelt said.

After going back and forth over the Sisson Road site and the Oak Street parcels, the trust members agreed to create a One A parcel—the Oak Street lots—and a One B parcel, the Sisson Road site. Howell said the Oak Street parcel doesn’t have stakeholders. If the trust wants a location where to claim a housing victory, that would be Oak Street, he said.

If any physical issues arise at Oak Street, Brophy said the trust can look at the Sisson Road Site.

Shufelt said she would bring an engineer to the Oak Street parcel to begin an evaluation of the site for affordable housing.