Select Board Endorses Middle Road Land For Housing

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Housing and homelessness

The Middle Road parcel includes the areas marked as Option 1 and Option 2 on this town map.

CHATHAM The select board Tuesday unanimously threw its support behind the idea of using 19 acres of town land off Middle Road to create affordable and attainable housing.

Town officials say two parts of the property, 5.2 acres on the west site and 3 acres on the east, are suitable for building. The western side of the parcel could sustain units with a total of between 20 and 25 bedrooms, with another 12 to 15 bedrooms possible in the east. The number of bedrooms is calculated based on the use of on-site septic systems; should the town connect the land to the nearby wastewater treatment plant, more bedrooms might be possible.

Resident Rick Leavitt said that while the town is eager to move ahead in creating housing units, Middle Road is close to industrial areas, and building homes here could stigmatize residents. Leavitt said he prefers development of housing near the town’s village centers.

Select board member Peter Cocolis said the land is well suited for new housing units and it is well buffered from neighbors. “The point is, we need affordable and attainable housing, not two years from now – we need it now,” he said. Meeting the town’s housing needs will require using all available resources, Cocolis noted. “We can’t let the...perfect be the enemy of the good,” he said.

Working on housing development on Middle Road does not preclude building other units in village centers, board member Dean Nicastro added.

“I think we need to move boldly in several directions,” he said. Later in the agenda of Tuesday’s meeting, the select board convened in a closed-door session to discuss the acquisition of property for affordable and attainable housing at a yet-to-be-disclosed location. But any such project elsewhere would not negate the need for Middle Road. “I think we can do more than one thing at the same time,” Nicastro said.

The Middle Road land is ideal for housing, board member Jeffrey Dykens said. The property is near conservation land, Goose Pond and Volunteer Park. “I don’t think developing here is going to stigmatize anybody,” he said. Board member Cory Metters agreed.

“Chatham is a beautiful community. Every inch of it is a beautiful community,” Metters said.

The select board pondered the use of Middle Road at its previous meeting, and asked staff to provide additional information this week. In the intervening time, board members received a flurry of emails from citizens urging them to support housing on the site, and board chair Shareen Davis thanked people for their passion.

“Move that advocacy toward town meeting,” Davis said. Since 2017, this select board “has done more to move affordable housing forward than has been done in a long time in Chatham,” she said. Town meeting voters in May will be asked to declare the Middle Road property surplus in preparation for its use for housing initiatives.

Former select board member Florence Seldin said Middle Road was considered for housing years ago, but the idea failed to gain support from some board members and citizens. “I believe that attitude has certainly changed,” Seldin said.

Community Housing Partnership member Shirley Smith praised the board for its action. “Middle Road has been waiting a long, long, long time,” she said. “You have put forth your legacy tonight.”

On a split vote, the select board opted against pursuing the re-use of the former water department offices at 127 Old Harbor Rd. to create one or two housing units. In the majority, board members Nicastro, Metters and Cocolis said they favored retaining the valuable land for some future municipal use, given that it would result in the creation of only one or two homes.