LENOX -- The long-awaited Sawmill Brook affordable housing development is poised to move ahead on the Route 7 and 20 bypass, now that private investors and state funding support are on the horizon.

If the plan is approved by a two-thirds majority at a special town meeting set for Tuesday, the designated developer, Community Development Corp. of South Berkshire, would be cleared to purchase the undeveloped 20-acre site from the town for $600,000.

The CDC could then begin the design process in order to seek a comprehensive permit from the town for the project.

"We need a rock solid agreement from the town that we can purchase the property," said Timothy Geller, executive director of the CDC.

The Sawmill Brook plan would create affordable, occupant-owned townhouses through a mix of affordable and market-rate units on commercially zoned land at the northeast corner of Housatonic Street and the state highway.

About six acres of the 20-acre site would contain the townhouses, with the rest of the land reserved for permanent open space conservation.

"We've been committed to this project for a long time, and it's been a positive partnership with the town," Geller commented. "Affordable home-ownership units were highlighted in the town's master plan and this project was designed specifically to meet that need."

The state recommends that towns designate 10 percent of their available housing as affordable. In Lenox, the figure was 7.2 percent as of April 2013.

After a final agreement is negotiated with the town for the property purchase and once permits are in hand, the CDC can apply to the state for affordable housing development subsidies.

Of the 50-plus new housing units eventually to be offered for sale, as many as 22 would be designated permanently as affordable for first-time homeowners, based on federal income-eligibility guidelines.

Private financing for the market rate units is critical for the project, Geller said. The CDC is working with a partner, Benchmark Development of Lenox, whose principals are Michael Charles and Brian Cohan, both of Berkshire County. "It's a new partnership between two people who have many years of experience in development and construction," Geller said.

"The town meeting vote is simply the next administrative action that needs to take place to move the project forward," he added. "The town has already shown great commitment to using the site for affordable housing."

Because of the global recession, said Affordable Housing Committee member Debbie Burke, funding for affordable housing developments was hard to come by. "Now that the economy is improving, both private and public money is becoming available," she said.

The land has long been eyed by developers. In the early 1980s, an upscale retail outlet village was proposed but rejected by voters; in 2006, the town's zoning board turned down a proposed Marriott resort.

Three years ago, voters approved the purchase of the site by the town, long owned by the Bartoni family, for $600,000 through a bond financed by funding from the Community Preservation Act.

Later that year, the Great Barrington-based CDC emerged as the only developer to respond to a bid proposal put out by the town.

"Now, to get financing for affordable housing, they have to have control of the site through a legally binding option to purchase it," Town Manager Christopher Ketchen said. "We have a good-faith obligation under the agreement to facilitate the purchase."

Market rates for the Lenox townhouses likely would range from $300,000 to $500,000, Geller said, while the affordable units would sell for $160,000 to $210,000.

Those units could be purchased by families earning up to 80 percent of Berkshire County's median household income. According to federal statistics, a family of four with income of up to $69,900 would be eligible. A single person with income up to $44,750 also would meet the guidelines.

Typically, Geller said, the vast majority of the affordable units would be bought by area residents, specifically people who work in Lenox such as teachers and town employees.

If you go ...

What: Lenox special town meeting

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Lenox Town Hall Auditorium, 6 Walker St.

On the Agenda:

Article 1: Voters are to approve by a two-thirds majority an option for the CDC of South Berkshire to buy the former Bartoni property at Housatonic Street and Routes 7 and 20 for $600,000, the same price paid by the town in 2011. After the organization receives a commitment for financing to build the development, it has 120 days to complete the site purchase. If voters approve the option, it would expire in September but could be renewed for two more years, subject to approval by the Select Board.

Article 2: The Conservation Commission would be authorized to accept a gift of two parcels of open-space land totaling just over five acres from Saw Mill Realty, Inc., developer of a residential community on Stoneledge Road, adjacent to the proposed affordable housing development.

Article 3: Voters would give the town manager discretion for additional or reduced spending as needed during the fiscal year that begins July 1. Town Manager Christopher Ketchen described it as a standard "placeholder" authorization to take unforeseen circumstances into account.

The full warrant is available at the town's website, townoflenox.com.

Note: A quorum of 32 voters is required, a formula based on 1 percent of the town's turnout for the 2012 statewide election.

To contact Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@yahoo.com
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto