Town To Buy Church Land For Affordable Housing

By: Tim Wood

A view of the property the town is buying for housing as seen from across the street at the Our Lady of Grace Chapel Catholic Church. TIM WOOD PHOTO


Chatham, Fall River Diocese Reach Agreement On Meetinghouse Road Property

CHATHAM – The town has reached an agreement with the Diocese of Fall River to purchase 5.26 acres of land on Meetinghouse Road for affordable housing.

The town's affordable housing trust fund committee voted unanimously Tuesday to buy the land, which is across the road from Our Lady of Grace Chapel. The $525,000 purchase price will come from the affordable housing trust, which means the entire parcel will be dedicated to affordable housing.

“This is 100 percent affordable housing as funded by the trust,” said Town Manager Jill Goldsmith. “There's no further action needed by town meeting.”

“This price is charity,” Select Board and trust member Jeffrey Dykens said. “It's truly a godsend.” The land is assessed by the town at $446,400.

In a statement, the Diocese said proceeds from the sale of the unused parcel will go toward the “financial needs and plans” of Holy Redeemer Parish.

Town staff will work with the Barrett Planning Group to determine the type and configuration of housing that can be accommodated on the 3.5 acres of buildable upland on the property. The land has 380 feet of frontage along Meetinghouse Road (Route 137), and under board of health regulations, could accommodate 22 bedrooms. Although sewer is currently not available for the property, a contract is out to bid that will bring sewers down Route 137, and the service should be available to the property within three years.

Whatever its final shape, the housing is sorely needed, said members of the trust, which includes all five members of the select board.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for the town to make a major impact on our housing needs,” said chair Peter Cocolis. Chatham has fallen behind other area communities in meeting affordable housing goals, and at the same time escalating real estate prices have put buying a home out of the reach of many working people.

It's going to take a number of initiatives to make a dent in the affordable and attainable housing shortage, officials said. Several are in process. Saturday's town meeting will decide on using four acres along Middle Road for housing, and study is underway of housing on town-owned land at 127 Old Harbor Rd. The select board has also asked the Monomoy Regional School Committee to consider turning over land along Stepping Stones Road for housing; the committee is scheduled to discuss the request Thursday. Purchase of the Buckley property in West Chatham, approved by town meeting last year, is stalled due to issues among family members.

The relatively large Meetinghouse Road parcel is just a part of that effort, said Select Board and trust committee member Shareen Davis. The land is adjacent to the 7.9-acre Twine Fields property that the town purchased from her family a few years ago as conservation land, she added.

“We have a housing crisis in Chatham,” she said, “and this board and the trust has worked very hard to come up with scenarios to satisfy what we feel is a very important obligation to the sustainability of this community.”

The town issued a request for proposals for private land available for housing earlier this year and received one response, said Director of Community Development Kathleen Donovan. The Diocese offered the land for $525,000, and on Feb. 10 the trust met in executive session and authorized Goldsmith to enter into negotiations and obtain a third-party appraisal. The appraisal determined that the Diocese asking price was fair, Donovan said, and the town entered into an agreement to purchase the land.

There is currently $2.7 million in the affordable housing trust fund, according to Goldsmith. The purchase of the Diocese land will leave $1,495,775, and town meeting will be asked Saturday to add another $500,000, she noted.

South Chatham is a “wonderful” place to build housing, said Dykens, pointing out that the land is near the South Chatham Village Center and borders the Old Colony Rail Trail.

“This will be great for the neighborhood,” said trust committee member Maegan Storey.

The church has owned the property since the early 1960s, when it purchased 16 acres of land in South Chatham on the east and west side of Meetinghouse Road, according to the Holy Redeemer website. Our Lady of Grace Chapel was built on the 11.4-acre parcel on the east side of the road, opening in 1963 and used during the summer to accommodate increased church attendance during the tourist season.

The Fall River Diocese could not be reached for comment late Tuesday. In a press release issued by the town, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha said, “The Diocese of Fall River is pleased that the unused parcel of property on Meetinghouse Road met the criteria of the town of Chatham’s RFP for land for an affordable housing initiative. Decent, safe, and affordable housing is indispensable to the health of any community and its residents. In this transaction, the Diocese is acting in a fiduciary role for Holy Redeemer Parish in Chatham and proceeds from the sale will go to support the financial needs and plans for the future of the parish.”

The town will now enter into a purchase and sale agreement with the Diocese with the goal of closing on the sale on or before Aug. 1.