Housing Trust Moving Forward With Sisson Road RFP

By: William F. Galvin

The Sisson Road lot where the affordable housing trust hopes to build affordable housing in the near future. FILE PHOTO

HARWICH — The affordable housing trust is working with Laura Shufelt, acting director of the Massachusetts Housing Partnership, on a plan to develop the 1.1 acre parcel adjacent to the Harwich Junior Theatre building on the corner of Sisson Road and Parallel Street.

“This is the major thing to bring forward as tangible proof we’re doing something,” Affordable Housing Trust Chairman Donald Howell said at the opening of last Thursday’s meeting in which the trust began defining the content for a request for proposals for the project.

Shufelt said an assessment of the parcel put together by Bohler Engineering on behalf of MHP, which was presented to the trust in a meeting in January, found that the site could contain at least 16 housing units. The lot is in a multi-family low-density zoning district and is also in the Harwich Center Historic District. A zoning variance would be required based on density; the assessment done by Bohler Engineering suggested a 40B comprehensive permit would significantly increase a project's feasibility.

As a RFP is developed, it will be important to determine the number of affordable units, design preferences, and the income percentage for applicants based on the median income in Barnstable County.

Design preferences, Shufelt emphasized, can only be suggested by the trust or included as a bonus as the trust weighs RFP responses from developers. Design is under the jurisdiction of the developer to assist in implementing cost-saving measures for the project. But the trust can establish parameters for historic design and affordability, she said.

Howell suggested historic designs might be better stated as a bonus provision in the RFP. Town Planner Charleen Greenhalgh agreed, as did Shufelt.

The Bohler Engineering assessment determined the parcel is suitable for 16 units in four buildings. Shufelt said the trust must decide if that number is too congested or too low. There were questions about providing one-, two- and three-bedroom units. Shufelt said there is a 10 percent provision in the 40B law for three-bedroom units, unless it can be proven a three-bedroom unit is not appropriate. She suggested the trust might consider one such unit.

Howell wanted to know if the three-bedroom unit could be a market rate apartment. Shufelt said she thought so.

Shufelt said four units on the site would not qualify the project for “outside money.” She said they’d need five to eight units for such funding.

“Would two quads hit the threshold?” inquired Howell. “Yep,” responded Shufelt.

Trust member Larry Brophy said he does not want to see too many units on the site, but suggested a couple of quads would be fine. The project should move forward as fast as possible, he added. Member Brendan Lowney wanted to know the size of a one-bedroom unit. Shufelt said the Local Initiative Program has a 700-square-foot minimum. Lowney said affordability and historic design were his preferences in this project. Affordability is key and speed is absolutely important, added member Judith Underwood. Howell said the RFP should not be “lathered up” with too much content.

As for the number of units, Shufelt pointed out the state had been providing $200,000 for each affordable unit up to five units with a $1 million cap. There was discussion about creating eight units on the site with five being affordable. Trust members seemed to be satisfied with that number, but there was no official vote taken.

Shufelt said she would prepare a draft RFP for the trust’s June 15 meeting and the group would work on edits to produce a final document. There was discussion about reaching out to the neighbors for support and the need for public sessions with the stakeholders once the RFP is competed, probably for the trust's July meeting. Shufelt said the RFP could be issued in August. There is usually a 60-day period for responses, and it would take a month or so to score and award the project. A developer could be on board by the end of the year, she said.

State funding applications would be filed in March and it could take a year or two for the small project funding decision to be made, Shufelt said.