Selectmen Narrowly Nix Chloe’s Path; Proposal May Return As Standard 40B Project

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Housing and homelessness

An architect’s rendering of the proposed Chloe’s Path development. COURTESY PHOTO

HARWICH — On a split vote Monday, selectmen rejected a “friendly 40B” application for the 96-unit Chloe’s path housing development off Sisson Road.

Under a potentially less friendly arrangement, the developer now has the option of bringing the project directly to the zoning board of appeals for a comprehensive permit.

The selectmen voted 3-2 against supporting the development, which has been the subject of a series of recent meetings. Of the 96 apartments proposed, 24 would be reserved as affordable, and responding to concerns raised at previous sessions, applicant Brian Bush of Kemah Apartments, LLC, agreed to designate another eight units as income-restricted “workforce housing.” Bush also agreed to a condition requiring that Harwich residents would be given precedence in applying for 70 percent of the units at the time of the initial leases.

Selectman Julie Kavanagh questioned the market analysis used to set renal rates for the market-rate apartments.

“I don’t doubt that people can pay those rents,” she said. “My question is, can people in our community pay those rents?” The proposed monthly rent for a three-bedroom market rate unit in the development is $3,150. A local family with children would need to be earning good money to afford that payment, she said. “That’s a mortgage,” Kavanagh said.

Attorney Andrew Singer, representing the developer, said that assumes that families can find a home to buy in their price range. The average home price on Cape Cod is climbing, he said.

“It’s risen while we’ve been sitting here,” he said. While the rental rates may seem high, “this won’t be a property for everybody. No property is,” Singer said. But together with affordable units here and elsewhere, the market units would help fill an urgent housing need in town, he said.

“My concern really still relates to density,” Selectmen Chairman Michael MacAskill said. “I don’t see a 96-unit building anywhere that fits into the character of this community.” Similar concerns were raised by area residents in previous meetings.

“The economics of rental affordable housing developments that are completed without public tax, [Community Preservation Act funds] and grant monies are such that the density is required because the privately-funded market rate units must subsidize the deed-restricted affordable units,” Singer said Tuesday. Without the market rate units, building affordable and workforce units would not be feasible, he said. “In addition, there is also a tremendous demand for market rate rentals on Cape Cod in general as well as the Lower Cape and Harwich in particular.”

Kavanagh said she also remains concerned about the scale of the three-story structure.

“Is there any discussion on lowering the height of the building?” she asked. Kavanagh proposed eliminating the parking garage in the basement in favor of outdoor parking to reduce the building height. Singer said the sloping site doesn’t lend itself well to that plan, and added that the older people who are likely to be seeking the units would rather not use a parking lot.

“Parking inside the building is a big amenity,” Singer said.

Another outstanding concern involves a covenant placed on the deed by the previous owner of the 9.3-acre site, which aims to keep the property in its natural state. Selectman Donald Howell said he believes the applicant wants the board to endorse the project so he can use that support as leverage against that deed restriction.

“I feel like a hostage,” Howell said. While a comprehensive permit allows 40B developers to avoid review by the usual town committees, if the state stands firm on the deed restriction, “that’s one of those areas that you can’t get around on 40B,” he said. If the deed restriction is ultimately overturned, future restrictions on other properties “won’t mean a damn,” Howell said.

“Times change. Life evolves,” Singer said. “No one’s denying that there’s a deed restriction on the property,” but that deed restriction includes an amendment process, he added.

Selectman Mary Anderson said she appreciated the developer’s willingness to listen to public concerns, and said she favors moving ahead with the proposal.

“In a true compromise, nobody gets what they want. It’s somewhere in the middle,” she said. Chloe’s Path would create 24 affordable apartments and eight more for working families, despite the concerns that have been raised.

“I think it’s worth that to have that many units in the town,” she said. Whether it proceeds as a friendly 40B or a standard one, the project will have no net impact on nitrogen pollution to the groundwater, Anderson noted. “I think you’ve addressed the environmental issues. I think we need houses and we need them now.” The development would represent a good step forward for Harwich, she said.

“You can’t chase the perfect and overlook the good. There’s a lot of good here,” Anderson said.

Board member Larry Ballantine agreed, saying the development would help fill an undeniable need.

“Anyone who basically works for a living needs housing,” he said. The developers would not be making an unreasonable profit on the project, Ballantine noted. He acknowledged the reservations that some have about the proposal, but when it comes to creating housing units, “sometimes you have to stretch a bit,” he said.

A motion to support the project failed, with Anderson and Ballantine voting in favor and MacAskill, Howell and Kavanagh opposed.

“The application has been honest, accommodating and transparent,” MacAskill said. If the proposal had satisfied the board’s concerns, “we’d be happy to do business with this developer,” he said.

With the “friendly” 40B application rejected, Singer said his client has not yet decided whether to proceed with a standard comprehensive permit application to the zoning board.