After neighbors recoiled at a plan to build 16 workforce housing units on West Kelly Avenue, town and county elected officials decided to consider scaling back the project.
They’re asking a developer to put together two sets of plans: one for a 12-unit housing complex and another with 16, both with “enhanced streetscapes” to improve integration with the existing neighborhood.
Despite the approved compromise, concerned neighbors were still disappointed, hoping the proposed project’s density would be further reduced.
“This is not the right project for this site,” West Kelly resident Perri Stern said. “We have consistently said six to eight townhouse units would fill an important need, be consistent with the context and character of the neighborhood and would be acceptable to the neighbors.”
The town and county purchased the 0.31-acre property at 440 W. Kelly Ave. in January for $1.7 million, and then solicited developers to build on it, asking for a minimum of 15 units. Housing Director April Norton said that minimum would steer developers toward smaller units, which have the greatest demand.
Two developers were selected as finalists, J. Roller and Tack Development and Design Associates. Each proposed to deliver 16 units that would be restricted for ownership by full-time local workers.
Both the Housing Supply Board and Norton recommended the Roller and Tack proposal, determining that while the units are pricier, the proposed local contractor — Shaw Construction — is reliable and has a proven record of accurate cost estimates. That was the proposal the town and county ultimately selected.
It shows 12 one-bedroom units at 500 square feet and four three-bedroom, two-bathroom units at 1,100 square feet. The total cost is $5 million for the three-story project, with a projected sale price of $300,000 for each one-bedroom and $625,000 for each three-bedroom unit.
But rather than debating the merits of the two developers’ options, the bulk of the town and county’s discussion during a Monday special meeting centered on density.
Sympathizing with neighbors, some favored locating as few as eight to 10 units on the site.
“I generally favor a more incremental approach to developing housing in this neighborhood,” Town Councilor Jim Stanford said.
County Commissioner Luther Propst agreed, saying the 440 project wouldn’t make a “significant dent in our housing situation,” and entailed “too much mass, scale and height.”
Though the neighborhood is home to mostly single-family ranch houses, it’s an area long envisioned for higher density. The Kelly project marks the debut of the town’s new high-density residential zoning that was approved in July 2018, so officials have said they are sensitive to setting a precedent for future high-density development and fear a “backlash.”
“440 W. Kelly is a small step toward beginning to mitigate our housing challenge,” Propst said. “I think the way we do that is to go slow. I fear that if we create a legacy of small projects that are just too much for a site, that we risk a backlash that puts our entire housing program at risk.”
On the other hand, Mayor Pete Muldoon insisted on sticking with a 16-unit plan and focusing on the working people who are struggling to afford housing. He argued that the community’s comprehensive plan, as well as a recent decision by elected officials to reject a proposal to add workforce housing south of town at Hog Island, were based on the idea that “we don’t want to locate our housing in suburban sprawl out in the county and make it unaffordable,” because locations in town have been identified for dense housing.
“This is one of those places,” Muldoon said. “We can’t have it all. We can’t say no to sprawl in the county without finding space for the housing in town.”
Muldoon added that building fewer than 16 units would make the elected officials “poor fiduciaries of public money.” At 16 units the public investment for each unit restricted for full-time workers would be $106,473 per unit. At 12 units it would be $141,964 per unit. At eight? $212,946.
As an architect, Town Councilor Arne Jorgensen cautioned that the number of bedrooms is more pertinent to reducing the building’s mass than the number of units. Ultimately the Town Council voted unanimously to request the 12- and 16-unit plans, along with County Commissioners Natalia Macker, Mark Newcomb and Greg Epstein. Commissioners Mark Barron and Propst opposed the motion, favoring lower density.
Sandy Shuptrine, who owns a lot on the street, said she appreciated the officials’ openness to considering lowering the density and hopes to see more open green space in a redesign. Neighbor Michael Stern said he’d like to see an effort to “break down the scale of this building,” perhaps even reducing it to two stories instead of three.
Several neighbors said they felt they haven’t had enough of a chance to weigh in on the project. Councilor Jonathan Schechter requested that the neighbors be “systematically” included in subsequent reviews of the revised designs.