September 24 2019

Town Meeting Approves New Housing for NorthWest Park that Includes Senior Discounted Units

By: Rich Hosford

After some lengthy discussion and debate, Town Meeting voted by a large majority to approve a warrant article that will allow the Nordblom Company to build 300 new units in the NorthWest Park project in exchange for making a number of the units discounted for seniors. 


Nordblom’s Senior Vice President of Development and Director of Mixed-Use Projects Todd Fremont-Smith and Attorney Bob Buckley of the firm Riemer & Braunstein made the pitch for the zoning amendment of the Northwest Park Planned Development District (PDD). They said the proposal was a “unique and exciting” opportunity for the town to offer less expensive housing to seniors with a preference for current Burlington residents. 


Buckley said the plan accomplishes two goals - it provides additional housing in the project that businesses in the park are looking for to fill the needs of their employees. It also gives the Town of Burlington an opportunity to provide housing options for seniors, especially current residents looking to downsize their homes, in less affordable units that don’t fall under the state restrictions for traditional Affordable Housing. 


What the plan calls for is a text amendment to the PDD that currently limits the park to 300 units to be changed to allow for 600 units. These, the developers say, will be split between two buildings. Of those 600 units, 14 percent, or 42 units, will be Local Senior Preference Units. Buckley said these units will be set aside for a public-private agreement between the town and the developer and that the town will set the parameters to decide who qualifies to occupy them. 


Freemont-Smith said the units will be rented at approximately half the market value, or at roughly $1,400 per month. 


These would not be traditional affordable housing units as defined by the state. Buckley said that with the new Friendly 40B development on Corporate Drive, Burlington is secure in its percentage of affordable housing units and does not at this time need any more to stay above 10 percent as directed by the state. Rather, these would be a new kind of senior discount units. 


The goal, he said, is to address the long-discussed issue of seniors selling their Burlington homes but then not being able to relocate in town. What often happens is that when the resident sells their home, the sale generates too many assets to allow them to qualify for affordable housing units. They are “asset rich but income poor” so that while they would qualify based on their income they are unable to qualify based on the assets.


“It’s a challenge and most people have to move a good ways away,” he said. 


So rather than using the state definition of affordable housing, this plan calls for the town to create a committee with representatives of various boards, committees and Town Meeting members to set the requirements for qualifications for these units. The developer pledged in the proposal to provide funds to hire an attorney or consultant to help the committee stay within state and federal housing laws. The committee will then come back to the developer with a proposed agreement between the town and Nordblom that both sides can agree upon.  


Buckley said the project cannot be completed without the two parties making this agreement. 


“We thought it had to have teeth so we said that we don’t get a building permit until it’s set,” he said. “You can pass this tonight but if we can’t come up with an agreement we aren’t going to build it.”


Before voting on the proposal, Town Meeting voted to adopt an amendment put forward by the Zoning Bylaw Review Committee that solidified much of what is discussed above. The proposal, with the amendment, was supported by both the Planning Board and Land Use Committee. 


In the end, Town Meeting voted 81-10 to approve the measure, clearing the necessary 2/3 threshold. 


Freemont-Smith said he expects it to take about three years before the first of the two new buildings to be ready for occupancy. The exact location in NorthWest Park has yet to be determined but will likely replace existing and out-of-date office buildings.


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