ORLEANS – With financing in place, local review has begun of plans to bring affordable housing to the site of the former Masonic Lodge at 107 Main St.
The zoning board of appeals opened its review of the project at its July 20 meeting. Members opted to continue the hearing to Sept. 7, where the board could vote on whether or not to issue a comprehensive permit.
The town purchased the 1.3-acre parcel in 2020 from Cape Abilities. In December, control of the land was transferred to the Hyannis-based nonprofit Housing Assistance Corporation, which plans to raze the existing lodge and build 14 units of affordable housing in three buildings.
HAC is partnering with the town in financing the project, with the town's portion of the cost coming in at $1.87 million. The affordable housing trust board in Orleans has put $875,000 of its own funding toward the effort, while an additional $1 million in Community Preservation Act funds was authorized for the project at annual town meeting in May.
But HAC was recently awarded $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act money from the state, so the community preservation money will no longer be needed.
The plan to bring housing to the Main Street parcel comes as the town continues to look for ways to address the housing crisis that has impacted Orleans and towns across the Cape. George Meservey, the town's director of planning and community development, said the town's housing stock is currently 9.4 percent affordable, just shy of the 10 percent benchmark set by the state that, when reached, can help the town better protect itself from unwanted 40B developments that might not fit in with the character of the community. But HAC CEO Alisa Magnotta said there is much more to be done to create more housing in town for working people, families and seasonal workers.
"The Land Ho! is closed a couple of days a week," she told the zoning board July 20. "That's never happened in the history of the restaurant. Cumby's is closed because they can't find help. And it's because we have a legitimate shortage of year-round rentals. That is what this project provides, year-round rentals for workforce."
The units will rent to people who make up to 80 percent of the area median income, Meservey said.
"They've been very responsive," Meservey said of HAC, which he said incorporated comments and questions from two public meetings held on the project into plans for the property. "HAC wants to be a very good neighbor here."
The plans call for construction of a two-story Greek revival-style home and a two-story barn structure. A one-story building would connect the two larger buildings in the middle.
The Greek revival building would house four two-bedroom units, and the barn would house eight single-unit townhouses. The middle building would have a three-bedroom unit and a handicap accessible single unit, according to the plans.
Brad Malo, the project engineer with Coastal Engineering Co., said access to the development would come by way of a 22-foot wide driveway off of Main Street. The plan also features 29 parking spaces, an enclosed trash storage area at the southern portion of the property and an emergency access area for first responders off of Quail Hill Road.
The property will be landscaped with native, non-invasive species, according to Thad Siemasko of SV Design, the project's architect. Eastern red cedar trees will screen the property from Quail Hill Road, and leland cypress trees will provide additional screening in the back of the property, he said. Four tupelo trees will also be plated in the parking lot to help break up the pavement.
"I just want to say that I think it's very well done," said Emily Van Giezen of the zoning board. "Aesthetically all across the board, I can tell there's been a lot of thought put into this and a lot of hard work, so I'm in favor of it."
Lynne Eickholt of the zoning board said the board received a letter of concern about the sidewalk being across the street from the project, which could pose safety risks for pedestrians and bicyclists crossing over to or from the development.
"It seems like particularly in the summer it's pretty busy," she said. "The concern was about kids crossing the street without a light."
Meservey said the area of the project will be subject to reconstruction in the coming years. That could include the installation of crosswalks and adequate sidewalks.
Others on the board had questions about the size of the buildings, namely the 32.5-foot tall barn. Zoning Board Chair Gerald Mulligan said that few buildings in town are higher than 30 feet tall, the maximum height allowed under the town's bylaw.
"This is our main street, and the appearance of this building is very important to the town, of course," he said. "I understand barns are taller than houses, but it towers over the house."
Siemasko said a grade change at the end of the property where the barn is helps hide the massing of the structure, but said the issue of the barn's size could be looked at.
"If we want to look at lowering the height some more, we can," he said. "I just want to be sure that it looks right when we're done and that it doesn't look like it's been compromised."
The look and size of the buildings will be taken up by the architectural review committee, which is set to begin its formal review of the project on Aug. 11. Meservey said the site plan review committee is also expected to begin its review of the project in the coming weeks. It is anticipated that both boards will have completed their reviews of the project by the time of the zoning board's next hearing on the project in September.
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