ORLEANS — The board of directors of Cape Abilities is scheduled to vote today (Aug. 1) on whether to sign a letter of intent to allow the town's affordable housing trust fund to explore developing housing at the agency's 107 Main St. property. On July 24, the trust fund board voted unanimously to sign the letter.
Cape Abilities bought the property last year for $480,000. It includes the former Universal Lodge building of the Masons, parking, and a large lawn abutting Main Street. In an interview with The Chronicle last May, then-president and executive director Rosalie Edes said the agency planned to relocate services provided at its Corchran Center in Eastham to Orleans. The focus would be day facility “for individuals with disabilities who need ongoing therapeutic support and medical support to maintain and increase independence.”
At the housing trust fund board meeting, member Alan McClennen said he had spoken earlier this year with the agency's new president and CEO, Jonathan Sproul. “Shortly after they bought the property,” McClennen said, “the state adopted regulations that sheltered workshops had to be on one floor. They got a special dispensation because they'd already bought the property, but when they looked at the cost, they came to the conclusion that it was not a good idea.” Sproul declined to comment before his board voted today.
If the agency's board signs the letter of intent, the property will be taken off the market until Oct. 31 while the Massachusetts Housing Partnership, at no cost to the town, assesses its appropriateness for affordable housing. On July 24, the trust fund board voted to approve spending up to $10,000 for related architectural studies if needed. After Oct. 31, the trust fund would have until Dec. 15 to negotiate an acquisition agreement with the agency. The board of selectmen would be involved also.
The existing building offers about 6,000 square feet and could accommodate five or six housing units, Director of Planning and Community Development George Meservey told the trust fund board. Noting that the area of Main Street is “a lovely drive with very nice houses,” he suggested that a couple of stand-alone homes or duplexes whose design would match others in the neighborhood could be built on the front lawn as well. That would screen the more utilitarian 20th century lodge building.
“It's a big hole on Main Street,” McClennen said of the open lawn. “It didn't used to be” when the Calvin Snow house was there. He added that the lodge building “is on a septic system designed for a commercial kitchen... We need to look at what the real capacity of the septic system is, then work backwards [to determine] how many bedrooms.”
Members of the trust board and Meservey discussed the various forms of relief that might be required from the zoning board and the board of health under different development scenarios. Noting that Cape Abilities' proposed use had been allowed by right without a hearing because it's an educational use, Meservey said the public hearing process would play a significant role in the review of any housing development on the site.
“Hopefully,” he said, “it can be cast as a less intrusive use than a potential commercial one.”
“We don't know enough today to say yes, this is a good idea, or no,” McClennen said. “The question here is do we want to spend some time and maybe some money between now and Oct. 31 to see if this is an avenue we should follow.”
On another matter, McClennen said Town Treasurer Scott Walker and he had met with the Cooperative Bank of Cape Cod, which he anticipates will provide the trust fund with a line of credit for “a couple of million dollars.” That will be discussed in more detail at the board's Aug. 7 meeting.