Scituate seeks more details on affordable housing plan

Scituate seeks more details on affordable housing plan

SCITUATE - In a town with one of the worst affordable housing records in the state, the Scituate Plan Commission wants more information before deciding on a proposal for a 12-unit condominium complex, Woodland Terrace on Hartford Pike, which would include three "affordable" units.

The development would be built on two acres of land with a two-foot water table, private wells and septic system, and needs at least seven variances or waivers from state and local governments.

This project, because of the affordable housing units, falls under the authority of state affordable housing laws instead of local planning and zoning regulations. A rejection by a town can be overturned by a State Affordable Housing Board, although plan commission members were quick to note that they are not afraid to reject if necessary.

The seven-member Scituate Plan Commission, which first approved Woodland Terrace in 2010, met again Tuesday, Nov. 19, to consider amendments to the master plan for the housing complex that Ava Properties Inc., of North Scituate, wants to build. Lou Polseno, a town resident and highly regarded stone mason and landscape professional, is principal of Ava and reportedly lives near the site.

At its meeting last week, the commission approved changes to the project's master plan, granting minor variances in such areas as minimum lot size and rubbish disposal, but delayed considering overall final approval until a later meeting, with no date set. The commission, before deciding, wants to see:

* where a back-up generator would be located;

* the final condo home-owners' agreement;

* and results of the fire marshal's plan review, among other things.

Seven town residents, all opposed, spoke at the hearing. "Scituate should be held to a higher standard because we are supplying the rest of the state with drinking water," said Barbara Burke of Rocky Hill Road.

"I like it just the way it is," one man said of the town, speculating that the affordable home-owners would be from "downtown Providence or Woonsocket."

Others questioned the need for affordable housing in town and the data used to justify that need.

State figures say the town has only 39 affordable housing units, 0.9 percent of the total and far less than the 10 percent required by the state.

"We are so woefully short," Town Engineer David E. Provonsil, commission member, said of the 0.9 percent figure.

But Megan Tansey, of Danielson Pike, said the website Zillow listed 29 homes in town for less than $200,000.

Projected prices for the Woodland condos are at least $250,000 at market rate (with higher prices possible for added extras), and $200,000 for the so-called affordable rate. As Provonsil explained, the state defines "affordable" as spending no more than 30 percent of gross monthly income on housing including utilities.

"These are not low-income housing," said Joe Casali, Warwick engineer who prepared the site development plans, nor are they Section 8 federally subsidized, he added. Casali said he envisions a first-year teacher or policeman as potential buyers of the affordable homes.

The development would include an advanced septic system with a "bottomless sand" filter measuring 20 by 40 feet, formally named Advantex AX-100, that would treat septic waste without chemicals. Casali called it the "Cadillac" of septic systems, whose use at Woodland he said has been approved by the state Department of Environmental Management. It consists of several treatment tanks and can treat as much as 2,800 gallons a day.

The septic system, which Casali said he has seen installed successfully at several commercial establishments in the state, will require regular maintenance and operational checkups from the condo association. The Plan Commission wants to see the condo owners' agreements to make sure this is clear to future condo buyers.

Commission members drilled down deep into the plans, questioning in particular many details of the septic system, drainage plans and the need for emergency backup electrical power.

Most agreed that the development is "visually appealing."

Three two-story buildings would each have four attached units, with an interior (rather than corner) unit as an affordable home; all would have two bedrooms and a garage, while some but not all would have basements. Unit exteriors look like colonial single-family homes, with clapboard-type frontage and attractive stone accents.

The road leading into the development would be a private roadway, maintained by the condominium association, 360 feet long and 22 feet wide, ending in a cul-de-sac. Parking spaces would be provided for 30 cars including six for visitors. Electric lines would be buried. An unfenced shallow pond, about three feet deep, is on the site.

Scituate has only 39 affordable units and needs 371 more to meet the state's mandate that 10 percent of the housing stock in every community be affordable. The town has a total of 4,102 housing units, so 410 should be affordable.

While two other communities have less affordable housing units than Scituate - Little Compton has nine and West Greenwich, 34 - neither town needs as many new affordable units to meet the 10 percent goal. Compared to Scituate's need for 371 units, Little Compton needs 153 and West Greenwich, 199.

Provonsil noted that the state's affordable housing law, enacted in 2004, expects communities to encourage and support the development of low- and moderate-income housing. All seven cities have met the 10 percent goal, he said, but only Burrillville among the towns has reached it.