CHATHAM — At least part of a 19-acre tract of town-owned land off Middle Road should be used for affordable and attainable housing, selectmen said last week. But board members appear to be split on whether to use the whole parcel for housing, or to hold some of the land in reserve for other potential uses.
Meeting last week, the board voted unanimously to ask staff to develop a plan for using a portion of the land for a future housing project. It’s not the first time; in 2007 and 2008, the planning board and affordable housing committee proposed two alternatives for housing developments on the land. One, known as Alternative C, would have resulted in seven or more units on a parcel close to Goose Pond. The other, Alternative J, called for seven single-family units and 18 more units in duplexes on land closer to the wastewater treatment plant. Facing opposition, those proposals were shelved until the town created a five-year affordable housing plan.
In 2018, the town approved a housing production plan that specifically mentioned the Middle Road site, but there was no immediate move to develop the land.
The entire tract is zoned for municipal use, and except for a portion near a wetland, is available for a wide range of projects. Last year, voters rejected a proposal to use part of the land to build a new senior center.
The Chatham Community Housing Partnership, as the town’s affordable housing committee is now called, is asking selectmen to explore designating the whole parcel for affordable and attainable housing, Principal Planner Aly Sabatino told the board last week. All the land doesn’t need to be used right away, and some might be reserved as open space as part of a cluster development, “whatever the community really envisions,” she said. Any actual housing project would require public participation and an eventual vote at town meeting.
Selectman Dean Nicastro said any such project would likely require a two-thirds vote, which could be challenging if there is opposition from the neighbors, as there was to the senior center proposal.
Selectmen Chairman Shareen Davis said the comparison isn’t valid, since the council on aging proposal was for a large municipal building, not single-family homes. She predicted that neighborhood opposition would be less for a housing development.
“It could enhance the neighborhood, in some respects,” Davis said.
Board member Cory Metters also urged the board not to use all the land for housing, saying there are “other things we may want to consider for that land,” like future municipal projects or conservation. Selectman Jeffrey Dykens agreed.
“I do not want to pour cold water on it,” he said, but it would be best to have a complete survey of all town properties before reserving the Middle Road land entirely for housing.
Karolyn McClelland, a member of the housing partnership, said selectmen shouldn’t be deterred from pursuing housing projects because some neighbors may oppose them.
“There’s always going to be an abutter issue,” she said. She urged the board to reserve the entire parcel for housing. Having spent much time discussing the need for housing in Chatham, “we have to pull the trigger and develop some property,” McClelland said. The development can be done carefully, as was done years ago with the CHOP neighborhood off Stony Hill Road, “and what an asset that has been for the community,” she said.
“This is the biggest piece of land that Chatham has to make an impact on this incredible issue that people are having with housing right now,” McClelland said.
With board members saying they support using part of the land for housing, the board voted to have staff draft a plan for doing so. Davis supported the motion, but pledged to fight to have the entire tract reserved for housing.