The new START facility may soon house more than buses.
On Monday START presented a plan to town councilors and county commissioners to develop as many as 23 employee housing units on the site, just off West Broadway near Karns Meadow.
The original design of the START facility, developed in 2006, included a housing plan, but one that planned on building a maximum of 11 units.
Monday’s joint board meeting authorized START to pursue plans that called for nearly triple the square footage and an extra 4 to 6 feet of height.
“We have as a collective body committed to housing and transportation as our community priorities and this is a unique situation,” Councilman Don Frank said. “We own the land and I do think it’s incumbent on us to optimize this opportunity. Anything we don’t build and leave on the table is a lost opportunity, and we won’t recover it.”
In 2006 the town and county’s needs for affordable housing were far less. A plan calling for 11 units was deemed sufficient, but was put on hold due to financial constraints caused by the Great Recession. Nearly 10 years later housing needs have increased drastically — START began recruiting bus drivers from as far away as Australia due to the difficulty of finding appropriate housing for its employees.
With an already massive building in place at the bus barn, the START board figured it could increase the density of its housing facility without radically altering the original design or the aesthetic feel.
Make it taller
“We feel strongly that we can accommodate that fourth story of housing,” said Arne Jorgensen of Hawtin Jorgensen Architects who designed the project. “We can do it in a way that preserves the scale and we can do it well.”
The initial plan was to build a three-story building with the first floor used for parking. The top two floors would have consisted of a studio and five three-bedroom units that allow one room to be locked off into another studio apartment. With all of the studios locked off it would create 11 units.
The new design removes parking from the structure and adds a fourth floor, but keeps the same configuration.
By burying half of the first floor, which will be used as garden apartments instead of parking, and adding an additional floor, architects and engineers working with START determined that at least 23 units could be built using the same footprint.
To gain the additional square footage for housing and to provide parking for an increased number of tenants, the parking has been moved just north of the building and now allows an additional 12 spaces.
In total the initial estimated cost of the updated plan will be roughly $5.8 million.
Furthermore, because the town owns the property, it will have control over renting those units.
“Having control over the occupancy of these units and the criteria by which they’re extended [to renters] gives us great flexibility for how to use those in the future,” Frank said.
Though plans for the updated design are still in the conceptual phase, engineers with Jorgensen Associates and architects with Hawtin Jorgensen said they could complete the design and construction documents by September and be ready to break ground in the spring, if funds are made available.
Funding still to be fixed
With most of the town and county’s affordable housing funds already tied up with other projects, the joint board’s main concern with an expanded design was funding.
“How can we go though and pay the additional costs for design work without knowing what we can spend and where that money’s going to come from seems premature?” Commissioner Paul Vogelheim asked. “I am in support of housing and I am in support of us leading by example as an employer for employee housing, but let’s have the hard conversation first.”
Ultimately the joint board voted to approve the updated plan, eight to two, with Vogelheim and Town Councilor Jim Stanford opposed.
The decision to approve the plan was largely made with the assumption that additional funds could be raised with an additional penny of general revenue sales tax, which will be voted on during the Nov. 8 general election.
“We don’t know where we’re going to get the funds, I get that,” Mayor Sara Flitner said, “but we cannot meet our goals [without] putting specifics out there and giving our community the tools to meet those priorities. It doesn’t hurt my feelings terribly to be able to use this as a project that we could point to for the general revenue penny and show that specificity that the community asked for.
“We have a lot of competing priorities,” she said. “We don’t have the resources to cover them and we’re going to have to get real about changing the goals and the metrics we use to measure our success or adding to the resource base.”