Sisson Road Site Suitable For Affordable Housing

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Housing and homelessness

The old recreation building site is being considered for affordable housing. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

HARWICH — The affordable housing committee is looking to put its first housing project in place to demonstrate the abilities of the recently installed affordable housing trust to develop housing.

The group received some good news from a due diligence assessment conducted by Bohler Engineering on behalf of the Massachusetts Housing Partnership. The company conducted an assessment of the 265 Sisson Rd. property, a 1.1-acre parcel that houses the former recreation building now leased by the Cape Cod Theatre Company/Harwich Junior Theatre across from Brooks Academy and found that it is suitable for at least 16 housing units. The town had previously sought to have an affordable housing development located there, but it never got off the ground.

The trust has been working with the partnership to assist in developing priorities for housing locations. They have been looking at property along Oak Street and the Sisson Road parcel. The Sisson Road parcel rose to the number one priority.

“The initial due diligence for the site identified that the zoning requirements and historic overlay district will be the biggest challenges facing the development should Chapter 40B zoning relief not be pursued for this project. If this project were to be a Chapter 40B development, the project’s feasibility increases significantly,” the assessment concluded.

The report pointed out previously considered concepts proposed approximately 16 units in multiple buildings. The existing community building would remain on the lot but would not be part of the housing development, according to the report. Additional parking would be required and a decision would have to be made to retain the 30-year old septic system for the community building or combine the system with one for the new housing. The existing system pre-dates Title 5 and has a concrete leaching pit and septic tank. There is space to accommodate both approaches.

“We looked at keeping it separate or combining the septic system, either is viable,” said Mark. M Wixted, P.E. from Bohler Engineering. He said a private developer would likely prefer to keep them separate.

The property is in the Multifamily Residential – Low density zone and it is also in the Harwich Center Historic District. Based on a zoning review, the report states if the project were not pursued under a Chapter 40B, it a special permit, zoning variances and historic commission review will be required for the development.

The size of the development is another issue. There are septic calculations for 16 bedrooms in the assessment. Laura Shufelt, assistant director for community assistance with the MHP, said that is not locked in.

Under 20 units would place the project in a special funding round, she said. “You can go into the smaller bucket, it’s usually not over subscribed,” she said. Shufelt added that 10 to 12 units is a good size for small project funding.

“We want one project to show people we can do this,” Affordable Housing Trust Chairman Donald Howell said.

Decisions have to be made on whether to seek a developer, who would own the housing through a 99-year lease of the land, or have the trust pursue ownership and develop the project. Shufelt said it would be much harder for the trust and would increase the cost by 30 percent. She said it would also add costs to have a management company overseeing it.

“You can’t make it up in subsidies,” she said.

Shufelt said based on the report, the trust can now talk about moving forward. She said the group needs to talk about goals for the site, reminding members they cannot develop too restrictive provisions, if they want to have a developer provide the housing. She said they have to allow the developer to be creative.

The trust should decide whether the building should constructed along the road or to the rear of the property with parking out front. Should the trust decide to have a developer provide the housing, Shufelt said providing the land may be enough without the trust needing to provide additional money to develop the housing.

Shufelt said the trust should work to develop those priorities. She said she will put a template request for proposals together for next month’s meeting.