Converting Bank Op Center To Housing Has Challenges, Opportunities

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Housing and homelessness

Members of the affordable housing trust fund board and affordable housing committee joined architect Rick Fenuccio and George Meservey, the town's director of planning and community development, on July 10 for a site visit outside the Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank operations center on West Road. They're standing in an area that could see a new 22,000-square-foot building with 19 affordable rental units. It would be attached to the existing 38,000-square-foot structure, which could be renovated to offer another 32 units.  ED MARONEY PHOTO

ORLEANS The affordable housing trust fund board and the affordable housing committee exercised their legs and their imaginations July 10 on a site visit to the Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank operations center on West Road. The bank, which will be moving its HQ to Hyannis soon, agreed to let the town study the possibilities of converting the property to affordable rental units.

With the caveats that any actual plan will have much greater detail and be based on potential developers' responses, the two groups agreed unanimously to advance a conceptual site plan prepared by Rick Fenuccio of Brown Lindquist Fenuccio & Raber Architects to the next level. That will involve providing conceptual construction cost estimates to Laura Shufelt of the Massachusetts Housing Partnership, who will then create a draft pro-forma development plan.

“That will tell us how far we should take this,” said the trust's newly reappointed Alan McClennen as last week's meeting continued back at town hall. “Then we need to sit down with the Cape Cod Five. We're doing some work for them to figure out if there are viable options they should consider. That's a whole other level of discussion.”

Acquisition costs for the property are another matter. With the information the town will provide, it's possible that the bank could enter an agreement with a non-profit entity to develop the site as housing. Under that scenario, a developer could ask Orleans and surrounding towns to contribute Community Preservation funds to be added to federal, state, and private money. That's the path followed by the affordable rental development under construction in Eastham.

Fenuccio said the conceptual site plan “is not so prescriptive that it will hamstring a developer from being creative but rather will establish a set of criteria considered most advantageous, such as green space. This is just a way of priming the pump for the developer.”

In the conceptual plan, the existing bank building (38,000 square feet) would have 24 one-bedroom rental units of about 600 square feet and eight micro-units (think studio apartments) of 350 square feet. It would be connected to a new building with 14 two-bedroom units (about 850 square feet) and five three-bedrooms (950 square feet). That would yield 51 total units, a number that housing specialists have advised is sufficient to attract developers.

The conceptual plan pulls the bulk of the connected buildings farther apart to allow more room for a shared courtyard. That places the new building closer to the buffer area for Route 6 to the west, but provides an emergency access drive around the rear and side of the buildings that could also be used by walkers.

Green space is emphasized. Buffers of trees screening other properties would be maintained, and a large area in the northeast corner would offer a recreation field or open space, a playground, and community gardens.

Before the site visit, 73 parking spaces (31 new and 42 existing) were identified, but last week's walk turned up an additional handful that can be incorporated into that total. Unfortunately, the town's zoning bylaw would require 99 spaces, including one guest space for every three resident spaces.

“Based on my working experience,” said McClennen, who spent decades as a director of planning off-Cape, “the requirements of the Orleans zoning bylaw are the most restrictive parking requirements I have ever seen.” (“I agree,” Fenuccio said.) “We have the opportunity to understand how those parking requirements work in other places,” McClennen noted, referring to other developments in town. “Those parking lots are designed to meet the zoning standard, but let's drive by and see... You're trying to cover the one time when everybody is at home and everybody is having a guest... There are far too many parking spaces required by the bylaw. We need to focus on this.”

Limited regulatory relief on parking could be granted by town boards.

Fenuccio will present the completed pro forma conceptual plan to the planning board, and then it will be reviewed by the selectmen. Meanwhile, Director of Planning and Development George Meservey said he is keeping Cape Cod Five up to date on the town's work.

“I don't think they have any intent of moving on without us if we miss a date,” he said. “We've kept them in the loop.”