HARWICH — An affordable housing trust session and a scheduled discussion by the board of selectmen on a proposed 100-unit residential development off Route 137 in East Harwich were halted based on the recommendations of Interim Town Administrator Joseph Powers.
Because there is no formal permit application for developer Chris Wise's project, Powers recommended officials refrain from discussions.
He told selectmen Monday night that until there is a Chapter 40B comprehensive permit application, there is essentially no project to discuss.
“Unless there is objection from the board, I will reach out to any and all town public bodies to inform them that, unless and until the board of selectmen is advised that there is a pending 40B project...they should not engage in conceptual discussion,” Powers said.
Wise proposes constructing the development on 12.27 acres between Sherwood and Chrisjobeth roads. He has said in public meetings that 75 of the units will be market rate housing with the remaining 25 percent affordable. Wise has said he plans to file for a 40B permit.
But Powers told the affordable housing trust at its meeting on Thursday the materials presented by Wise were incomplete and there is no application before the town or Massachusetts Housing Partnership at this time. Following “parliamentary procedures,” the trust should not move forward with the presentation, Powers said.
There is a lot of interest in the Wise plan in the community. Trust Chairman Selectman Donald Howell said a petition circulating in opposition to the project has 689 signatures. Powers said there is a lot of “anxiety” in the community, but he emphasized that there is no project at this time.
Wise will have to seek a project eligibility letter from selectmen as a first step, Powers said, and file an application with the Massachusetts Housing Partnership, the quasi-state agency that assists with funding for 40B projects, or another subsidizing agency. Neither step has been taken.
Wise told the trust he's followed this informal process with other projects. When filing an application, the Massachusetts Housing Partnership asks if a proponent has received feedback from the town and the community, he said. Wise said his goal was to be “ultra transparent” along the way and he apologized for any anxiety he has caused.
The plans are ready and he should be filing with the state and seeking a project eligibility letter of support from the selectmen “so we are singing from the same sheet of music,” he said. Wise received approval from the planning board for a a 10-lot subdivision of the land last December.
A front-page story about the project in The Chronicle was premature, Howell said.
“That’s one of the concerns I have,” Powers said. “There had been ample discussion in the public sphere and newspapers and online and it really hinders the general public to weigh in, so rather than legislate it through newspaper articles let's legislate it through a regulated process or impose on Mr. Wise to have a broader public opportunity for input separate from the town body.”
He suggested that applicants in the future sponsor “community input events to gain the community’s insight long before the bodies of the town” are asked for input.
“We should be looking to give them many opportunities to weigh in rather than have them read it in the newspaper where they can’t engage in dialogue,” Powers said. He suggested the trust take no action, and the presentation was canceled.
On Monday night, after Powers made his presentation on how the town should be dealing with 40B projects, Selectman Michael MacAskill said he would reserve most of his comments for when the formal project comes back to the town. MacAskill also recommended an earlier preliminary approval of Wise’s development plans issued by the housing committee be rescinded given the absence of a formal application at the time.