CPC Criticized For Main Street Housing Vote

By: Ryan Bray

Topics: Orleans news , Community Preservation Act , Affordable housing , Select Board

Select board members Andrea Reed and Mefford Runyon discuss committee appointments during the board's Oct. 6 meeting at Orleans Town Hall. RYAN BRAY PHOTO

ORLEANS – What looked on paper to be a simple committee reappointment evolved into a discussion about the future makeup of the town's community preservation committee last week.

The select board ultimately voted 4-0 Oct. 6 to reappoint Sue Christie to the committee, but not without some discussion about what some members saw as the need for new voices on the CPC.

The CPC has received criticism in recent weeks over its vote last month not to support using $1 million in community preservation funds to help cover the town's portion of a planned affordable housing project at the site of the former Masonic Lodge at 107 Main St. Housing Assistance Corporation of Hyannis wants to create 20 bedrooms across 14 affordable units in a new building on the property.

The affordable housing trust board has committed $875,000 toward the town's $1.87 million share of the overall project cost, and board members were hopeful that the community preservation committee would support covering the remaining $1 million through funds the committee has available for affordable housing.

Through the Community Preservation Act, a 3 percent property tax surcharge helps fund projects in the areas of affordable housing, recreation, open space and historical preservation each year. The committee recommends for or against project proposals in those areas, and projects are ultimately approved or voted down at town meeting.

But the committee voted 4-3 Sept. 16 against recommending that the $1 million be used on the project. Members cited concerns about the project's density and design, as well as the anticipated cost per unit. The estimated per unit cost of $180,000 is $38,000 more than the cost of a unit in the Pennrose development planned for the former Cape Cod Five headquarters on West Road.

Select board member Mark Mathison initially leaned toward not reappointing Christie to the community preservation committee. Saying he was "floored" by the committee's vote against the project, Mathison expressed frustration that there were no other applicants for Christie's seat. He added that the committee needs "young blood" and new voices who are more committed to seeing through the town's vision for creating affordable housing in town.

"I want to see people who are invested in the future of this town step up," he said.

Mathison suggested that the board leave the seat open to give someone else an opportunity to apply to the committee. But Select board chair Mefford Runyon had concerns, noting that the committee is already short on members.

"I'd be almost afraid to have fewer votes there," he said.

Kevin Galligan of the select board also took issue with what he called a "horrible" vote from the committee, and said that some CPC members failed to stick to the committee's "selection criteria" in its Sept. 16 vote on the Main Street project. Select board member Andrea Reed agreed and said the committee should be educated on its purview when it comes to recommending projects.

But Galligan also noted that Christie was not present for the vote in question.

"I do think she brings that knowledge of what the committee's purpose is," he said.

Mathison changed his vote to being in favor of Christie's reappointment, but Galligan echoed his concerns about committee membership.

"We do need fresh blood to influence things and move this town in the direction it needs to go, because as of this vote, it's not happening," he said.

The CPC's vote against funding the 107 Main St. project led the affordable housing trust board to ask that an article seeking the $1 million be removed from the warrant for special town meeting on Oct. 25. The Housing Assistance Corporation plans to come back before the trust board with other options for coming up with the funding.

The affordable housing committee also discussed the project during its Oct. 5 meeting.  Bill Stoeckert of the committee said he believed some CPC members came into the Sept. 16 vote with preconceived notions about the project.

"There were a lot of opinions that were already formulated, and some people didn't want facts to get in the way of those opinions," he said.

Others on the affordable housing committee said the committee needs to do a better job of educating the community not only about 107 Main St., but the town's overall housing needs. Katherine Wibby called the hangup on the Main Street project a "lesson learned," and said she thought that the project's funding request was sprung on both the trust board and the CPC. She also recommended that the committee prepare a presentation  on the town's needs for small, medium and large housing projects.

"We know it's worthwhile, but we need to educate people to get them on board with us as well," Wibby said.

Reed, speaking at the committee's Oct. 5 meeting, also said that public perception needs to change about whom affordable housing projects like the one proposed for Main Street serve. The town is in need of housing to support young families and the local workforce, but Reed noted that tenants of affordable housing are still sometimes viewed upon as "drunks" or "drug addicts."

"This is the language people use," she said.

Stoeckert noted that Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod makes videos showcasing homeowners that are selected for their projects, and said the town could employ a similar approach to promote its own housing efforts.

"It puts a face on people," he said.

Email Ryan Bray at ryan@capecodchronicle.com