Lenox voters pave way for affordable-housing development


LENOX -- In a resounding show of support for an affordable-housing development, voters on Tuesday approved a plan allowing the Community Development Corp. of South Berkshire to purchase a 20-acre parcel just off the Route 7 and 20 bypass for $600,000.

That's the same price that annual town meeting voters approved, with 89 percent in favor, for purchase of the site three years ago through Community Preservation Act funding set aside for affordable housing.

Once the sale goes through, Town Manager Christopher Ketchen told the 130 residents at Tuesday night's special town meeting, the money will be returned to the town, minus $19,000 in interest payments paid by the town on the bond that was floated to finance the purchase.

The measure gives the CDC a two-year option on the commercially zoned site.

Following 15 minutes of discussion, voters approved the sale of the Sawmill Brook project by 107 to 28, well over the required 90-vote, two-thirds majority. Vigorous applause greeted the announcement of the tally by Town Moderator Hugh Cowhig. Turnout was 3.5 percent of the 3,742 registered voters.

After designing the complex at the intersection of Housatonic Street and the state highway, the CDC -- the designated developer for the project -- would seek a comprehensive permit from the town to construct a mix of affordable and market-rate townhouses, once private financing and state subsidies are secured, according to the CDC's Executive Director Tim Geller.

Deed restrictions for the 22 townhouses classified as affordable would remain in place for 30 years, Ketchen told voters. The remaining 28 units are to be offered at market prices.

"Unlike other developments of this kind in Berkshire County," he said, "these units will be ownership housing; there is absolutely no rental component."

Geller told voters that a "balancing act" in the deed restriction allows owners to build up some equity in their townhouses while keeping them at affordable prices. Unless modified by the Select Board and the CDC, the deed restrictions would remain in place as units are sold to new owners during the 30-year period.

The inclusion of 28 market-rate units is needed in order to make the project "financially viable and competitive in the market," he said.

Ketchen stated that if the CDC is unable to complete the project, the property would be returned to Lenox with no town responsibility for any funds spent by the Great Barrington-based nonprofit developer.

The cluster development would cover about 5 acres of the property, with the remaining 15 acres reserved as open space.

The purchase price for the affordable townhouses is projected to range from $160,000 to $210,000, Geller told The Eagle. The market-rate units would be priced from $300,000 to $500,000.

Individuals earning up to $44,750 would qualify to purchase an affordable unit, while a four-person household with income up to $63,900 would be eligible, according to federal guidelines that are updated annually, typically with a small increase.

One goal is to enable middle-income school and municipal employees now priced out of the Lenox real estate market to live in the town where they work while also increasing the limited supply of affordable housing in the town.

State support for affordable-housing complexes, which dried up during the recession, is now available to developers such as the CDC. Geller has identified two area investors willing to partner with his organization to pursue the Sawmill Brook project. They are Michael Charles and Bruce Cohan of Benchmark Development in Lenox.

The proceeds of the property sale would be returned to the town's Community Preservation Act funding pool, designated for additional affordable-housing proposals.

By unanimous voice vote, residents also approved town acceptance of a gift totaling about 5.5 acres of open land from Sawmill Realty Inc., developers of the Stoneledge housing subdivision off Housatonic Street, coincidentally adjacent to the affordable-housing site but unrelated to that project.

They also approved a proposal for the town to spend $10,000 in order to secure a $125,000 state grant for improvements to the Bakers Pond area of Kennedy Park north of West Dugway Road.

To contact Clarence Fanto:


or (413) 637-2551.

On Twitter: @BE_cfanto


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions