West Chatham Land Eyed For Housing

By: Tim Wood

Town meeting may be asked to approve the purchase of the Buckley property at 1533 and 0 Main St. in West Chatham. Negotiations are ongoing, but the select board agreed to put a placeholder in the warrant in case a deal is reached by the June 12 meeting. TIM WOOD PHOTO

CHATHAM – Two new initiatives in the ongoing effort to boost affordable and attainable housing may go before voters in June.

The purchase of 2.44 acres in South Chatham is already included on the June 12 town meeting warrant, as is the designation of town-owned land on Middle Road for affordable and/or attainable housing. The select board has also endorsed an article for special legislation to allow the town to charge a transfer tax on property sales of $2 million or more, with the proceeds going into the town's affordable housing trust fund.

Adding to those initiatives, the select board revealed last week that officials are in negotiations to buy 3.2 acres of private property at 1533 and 0 Main St. in West Chatham, and a petition article will appear on the warrant to add town-owned property at 127 Old Harbor Rd. to the affordable housing inventory.

The push to build affordable and attainable housing comes at time when housing prices are at their highest ever, with the super-heated market pushing the median single-family home cost close to $1 million. Many fear the prices will make it even harder for working people and families to afford to live in town.

“Now is the time,” Select Board Chair Shareen Davis said. “We as a town have to do something about affordable and attainable housing.”

The potential West Chatham deal involves two lots owned by the estate of the late Joseph P. Buckley Jr. The 2.7-acre lot at 1533 Main St. includes a single-family home and three cottages and is assessed by the town at $711,000. The second vacant adjacent lot to the east is just over an acre and is assessed at $376,900.

With negotiations with family representatives still ongoing, officials would not comment on the potential sale. Buckley family members also had no comment at this time. Last week the select board agreed to put a placeholder in the warrant in case a deal is reached before town meeting.

The board has endorsed the purchase of the Jordan property at 2337 Main St. for $974,100. The four contiguous lots could support 15 or more bedrooms. Officials have not said how many units the Buckley property could support; currently the buildings there have about seven bedrooms, according to assessing records. As with the Jordan property and approximately 19 acres on Middle Road, the Buckley land, if purchased, would be the subject of analysis by a housing consultant and community input as to the amount of type of housing – the mix of affordable and attainable units – it could support.

Housing advocates, including the finance committee, are pushing several other affordable housing measures this spring, including several community preservation fund appropriations (see separate story). A petition town meeting article also seeks to reverse the select board's refusal to add a vacant town-owned home at 127 Old Harbor Rd. to the affordable or attainable housing inventory.

The house, which previously held town water department offices but has been empty for at least a decade, is centrally located, already developed and could hold probably hold two or more housing units, said petitioner Karolyn McClelland. The select board voted 3-2 in February not to dedicate the parcel to housing.

“You can always find reasons not to build on a property,” McClelland said, addressing the criticism that the land is too valuable to the town to use for affordable or attainable housing. “That is rooted in a lack of commitment to solving the housing crisis.” If left to be developed privately, the land would be developed to its maximum, she said, probably as a summer home; this is an opportunity to make it available to year-round residents.

“We want to end up with something the whole town can be proud of,” she said. “I think if we work together as problem solvers, we an achieve that.”

The property is adjacent to Chatham Elementary School, and the town should wait until the school's status is determined before doing anything with 127 Old Harbor Rd., said Select Board member Cory Metters. “From a planning perspective, you don't need to move forward on this parcel at the moment until you clearly understand plans for the elementary school parcel,” he said.

Select Board member Peter Cocolis said he struggled with his position on the property. “I can make an argument either way,” he said. He recommended that either way, the property be included in the housing analysis planned for the other parcels on the warrant. “This property isn't going anywhere. It belongs to the town,” he said.

It would be shortsighted to put the 127 Old Harbor Rd. parcel in the affordable housing inventory at this time, said Select Board member Dean Nicastro.

“I think it's too choice a property for this use,” he said, also echoing Metters comments about its relation to the elementary school. “I respect what [the petitioner] is trying to do, but I don't think it's the right time to do and could serve as a distraction for the other affordable housing items that will be on the warrant.”

The petition carried enough signatures to guarantee placement on the warrant, “so it's going to be a distraction no matter how we vote,” said Select Board member Jeffrey Dykens. The existing house “is rotting,” he added. “I think the property is an embarrassment.” But it could be an attractive home for a couple of families; even

if there is no guarantee they'd be Chatham residents, it could house young families from the Cape who need a place to live.

“You can dipsy doodle around this stuff forever,” he said. “It's time to get off the dime as a board.”

Dykens and Davis voted to support the petition article, but Nicastro, Metters and Cocolis opposed it. Davis said she'll work hard to move it forward, just as she will with the other affordable housing measures on the warrant.

“This is an opportunity for us to look at how we can be creative” with unused town-owned property, she said. “It would be great to see a year-round residence, families living in this area.”

In a related development, the town won't be contributing to the proposed redevelopment of the former Cape Cod Five offices on West Road in Orleans into 62 housing units, 52 of which would be affordable. Pennrose LLC was seeking a $100,000 community preservation fund contribution toward the $27.7 million project.

Although it wouldn't directly benefit Chatham by adding to the town's affordable housing stock, the project would be open to area residents, Pennrose Regional Vice President Charlie Adams told the community preservation committee last week. A similar project in Eastham attracted residents from around the Cape.

The company is seeking $2 million from Orleans and a total of $700,000 from area towns, several of which won't address the request until next year. With Chatham town meeting slated to address a raft of affordable housing-related measures, CPC members agreed to defer the Pennrose request to next year.

“I think it would be a very hard sell at town meeting,” said CPC Chair Michael Tompsett.