ORLEANS — In an attempt to put the horse before the cart, the affordable housing trust hosted a virtual meeting Tuesday with owners of homes surrounding 107 Main St., the property it purchased this year for conversion to residences. Members heard the kinds of questions that often arise much later in the process, and promised to continue working on a plan that will satisfy the neighbors and the town’s housing needs.
Chairman Alan McClennen stressed that the trust has made no decisions on a particular plan or design for the property and will not until “we meet with you and other neighbors. This is the beginning of a planning process where we are the newest owner on the block.”
That’s not to say some work hasn’t gone into options. To help the trust decide whether to purchase the property, it commissioned studies that showed what number and type of affordable dwelling units could be built on the 1.25 acres. Planning and Community Development Director George Meservey shared the results, including a sketch by SV Design of a New England-style series of joined buildings that would house 14 units and fit into the historical character of the streetscape.
To avoid the 30 percent additional construction cost of a public development at prevailing wages, the town would use criteria developed in meetings such as the one held Tuesday to build a request for proposals. Developers would be screened and one selected to build and own the buildings with a 50-year land lease from the town. The developer would need site plan, architectural review, and zoning board approval.
Eight neighbors spoke during the meeting. Neil Cassanelli questioned the value of the trust’s investment given that the former lodge building would have to be demolished. He wanted to know if people living there would be Orleans residents.
Meservey explained that state regulations allow up to 70 percent local preference. “Our experience has never been that people come from very far away to apply for housing here,” he said. “When we did 12 units on Opa’s Way, 11 of the 12 either grew up in Orleans, presently lived in Orleans, or worked in Orleans.” Asked about the need for affordable housing, Meservey said that there are about a thousand people in town who are “cost-burdened by housing.”
After looking at the sample plan (“We have no fixation on any one design,” McClennen noted), neighbor Valerie Petersen said, “A lot more attention has to be paid to the peace and quiet of the neighborhood.” Janis Cassanelli mentioned “a lot of concerns: light pollution, noise pollution, dumpsters. The whole neighborhood is worried about home depreciation.”
Neighbor Katy Day, who works in real estate, said the combination of one- and two-bedroom units did not address the need for family housing in Orleans. “I could see three great houses in this spot,” she said. “Quail Hill Lane (which abuts the property) is one of the youngest streets I've lived on in Orleans. We don't diversify what we're trying to do with affordable housing enough.” She suggested the trust consider helping families that have, say, $400,000 of the $600,000 needed to buy a home. “We have no trouble buying a lot for $400,000 for conservation,” she said.
Another neighbor, Josh Stewart, found little to like about the studies so far. He cited potential impact on property values and criticized the sample “farmhouse” design. “Great old farmhouses didn't have 32 people living in them with 30 cars,” he said. He called the sample's projected construction's costs so low as to “seem mildly delusional for Cape Cod.”
Stewart suggested the trust consider “flipping” the property as the previous owner did and looking at purchasing, for example, the former underground mall site at Nell's Way now that the F. W. Webb project has been denied by the Old King's Highway Regional Historic District Committee. “You could continue Opa's Way and bring it down the hill,” he said, adding that the former Cape Cod 5 operations center building makes more sense for apartment living.
“If I were the king of Quail Hill,” said Stewart, “I'd love to see a small community of little miniature houses in a co-housing community.”
“This is the start of a very long, complex, and, I hope, productive communication process,” McClennen said. “We want to figure out what to do with 107 Main St. with all due respect to the people on Quail Hill Lane.”