Committee Hears Housing Options For Governor Prence Property
By: Ryan Bray
Topics: Housing and homelessness
Still Seen As Most Critical Use Of 5.5-acre Site
ORLEANS – The need for housing continues to drive planning for the former Governor Prence Inn property on Route 6A.
The Governor Prence Planning Committee has been exploring potential options for the 5.5-acre site since the fall. While multiple uses have been discussed including a community center and performing arts space, feedback from the community thus far has come back overwhelmingly in support of bringing rental and ownership housing to the site.
“The primary data, the secondary data, the folks that have come in to comment have all said housing, housing, housing,” committee member Tina Shaw said during the committee’s June 6 meeting.
At that meeting, the design firm Union Studio presented two revised site plans for the Prence property, which the town bought for $2.9 million in May 2021. One called for 77 units of housing, the most allowed under local zoning, while the other offered less density with 67 units.
At its prior meeting, the committee was presented with three proposals for 77 units, 60 units and 44 units. Committee members sought revisions to the first two schemes to reflect less parking and more open space.
Both revisions call for a mix of housing styles as well as open space and a common building. The 77-unit proposal would divide housing between four 10-unit apartment buildings, two three-story manor houses that would each house six units, and eight two-story townhouses that would collectively house 25 units. There would also be room for 116 parking spaces and a 600-square-foot common building on the south end of the site.
The plan was revised to relocate the largest buildings, the manor houses, to the center of the property. The elevation of the manor houses was also changed from two stories to three, which creates additional green space for a park area fronting Route 6A.
“We thought this is a nice feature for the general public who might walk by and be intrigued to come and look at the space,” Jeremy Lake of Union Studio told the committee.
In the 67 unit design, 18 units would be housed across three, three-story manor homes that again would be located in the center of the development. Along the perimeter would be 49 additional units across 13 two-story townhouses. This design calls for 101 parking spaces and the 600 square foot common building.
“I think we should be shooting for something like this,” said John Sargent, who chairs the Governor Prence Committee. “I think it gives a really nice, open feeling there while still having a lot of houses and occupancy.”
Others on the committee also praised the more spacious designs, but committee member Debra Oakes took issue with the proximity of the open space at the south of the property to the Cape Cod Rail Trail, which she said might be too intrusive to future tenants.
“That whole concept, I think it’s a little awkward,” she said.
Oakes also asked what measures can be taken to prevent unwanted development on the property. Elizabeth Haney, the committee’s consultant with Barrett Planning Group, said details as to what the town does or doesn’t want on the site can be included in the request for proposals that will go out to developers interested in bidding on the project.
However, Brett Pelletier of the Boston-based consulting firm Kirk & Company said other communities have run into problems by being too particular on their RFPs in terms of what they do and don’t want out of a project.
“Unfortunately the project never got built,” he said. “It became too unfeasible.”
Committee members also discussed how much room the town might want to leave for other uses apart from housing. Fran McClennen noted that the committee was charged through town meeting with exploring “municipal uses” for the Prence property.
“On the other hand, the committee doesn’t have any direction from the town as to what a possible municipal use might be,” she said.
While there has been talk in town about the need for a community center, committee member Mark Mathison, who is also a member of the select board, questioned if the town currently has the appetite to spend millions of dollars on another project in the face of ongoing sewer work, planning for a new fire station and library and a new police station and DPW building that the town owes money on. That’s all on top of developing the Governor Prence site.
Meanwhile, Orleans continues to struggle to create housing needed for low to moderate income residents and families. Haney presented statistics that show that since 2005, the number of renter occupied units in Orleans has dropped from 824 to 469. On the other hand, the number of vacant rentals for seasonal/recreational use has jumped from 1,995 to 2,678.
“The reality is this is a site that should be developed for housing,” he said. “We have a critical need for housing. We have a critical need for a type of housing that’s not being served.”
The committee welcomed public feedback on both housing proposals at its June 13 meeting. Recommendations for how to use the property are expected to be presented to the select board later this summer.