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Lenox approves $500,000 loan for affordable housing project at Brushwood Farm

Rendering of Brushwood Farm development from air (copy)

An artist's rendering shows the layout of the proposed affordable/workforce housing development at Brushwood Farm off Pittsfield Road in Lenox. Pennrose proposes to build 13 townhouse buildings containing 65 affordable and workforce rental apartments on nearly 15 acres at Brushwood.

LENOX — As a show of support for the proposed $30 million Pennrose mixed-income housing development at Brushwood Farm, the town’s Community Preservation Committee has approved $500,000 in funding for the project, with the prospect of an additional $250,000 next year.

The committee oversees distribution of money raised from a surcharge of up to 3 percent on real estate taxes for community housing, historical preservation, as well as open space and recreation. Annual town meeting voters have the final say on spending proposals.

Pennrose officials welcomed the unanimous vote, though it fell short of the $975,000 the company originally requested, which included $225,000 — it’s now off the table — for open space above the site off Pittsfield Road (Route 7/20).

Launching the project depends, in part, on obtaining state tax credits. A “buy-in” from the local community is considered essential to gain those credits, Pennrose leaders have explained.

Community Preservation Committee member Frederick Keator, who had raised multiple questions about the project during Monday’s meeting, offered the motion to approve a $500,000 loan for the developer this year, adopted on a 5-0 roll call vote. An additional $250,000 is expected to be requested and approved next year.

Pennrose proposes to build 13 townhouse buildings containing 65 affordable and workforce rental apartments on nearly 15 acres at Brushwood Farm, where the company holds a purchase and sale agreement with James Hashim, representing the family-owned property. One-year renewable leases would range from $800 per month for a one-bedroom unit to $2,500 for a three-bedroom apartment, available to income-eligible individuals and families.

Asked for reaction to Monday’s vote, Pennrose Regional Vice President Charlie Adams said, “I’m very pleased, I think it was a great outcome. It’s extremely helpful for us when the state offers various rounds for funding; we’ll see if we’re eligible in the main round next January.”

“Sources of funding include local and state housing tax credits, and a variety of ‘soft funds’ that the state has in a ‘one-stop’ application,” he told The Eagle. “We’ll also ask MassHousing for the workforce units.”

The target date for shovels in the ground, assuming that the Lenox zoning board approves the project next month, would be in late 2023. Construction is expected to take 12 to 15 months, concluding in early 2025. Pennrose is “on track” to work out an agreement with the Toole Lodging Group to address its concerns about the project adjacent to their Courtyard by Marriott hotel, Adams said.

Ahead of Monday’s vote, Keator raised concerns on what he considered the financial impact on town services of a new residential development.

“The town of Lenox will be the town of Lenox long after Pennrose is around,” he said. He suggested that the developers consider making an annual contribution to help the town “offset some of the additional burden that this project is putting on the community.”

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Adams responded that the project’s real estate taxes could be supplemented by an annual payment, “but this would detract from other resources.” Keator also suggested that Pennrose “look at the nearly $3 million developer’s fee.” That payment is capped by the state, Adams pointed out.

“This is how the company makes its living,” said Marybeth Mitts, who chairs the Affordable Housing Trust Committee and the Select Board. “They have expertise in this area; we’re getting a very good use of the taxpayers’ money, 65 units for a very minimal and responsible investment, working with a very responsible developer who is one of the best in the country.”

Illustration of playground, walking paths and buildings (copy)

On-site amenities at the complex would include bicycle racks, walking paths, a small playground, indoor and outdoor social/leisure areas, and lookout points with views of October Mountain and surrounding wooded areas.

Mitts emphasized that “it’s a very good deal for what the town will be realizing in a benefit to the people who live here or who want to live here, who work here or want to work here, who want to find a place to live close to where they work because maybe they don’t have a car, but it’s on a bus line and it can get them to their place of employment safely and in a manageable time frame. Those are all very positive aspects of this project.”

“They absolutely are,” Keator agreed.

He suggested that “if someone had a gun to our head and if we don’t approve the whole thing, then the project gets scaled back and they [the residents] don’t get a playground, picnic tables, barbecue pits and they don’t get 18-inch sidewalks, they get 12-inch sidewalks.”

“We’re really working hard to get the funds to deliver all that; we’re just looking for help,” Adams said.

He pointed out that the company was attracted to Lenox because of potential Community Preservation Act funding and that the project would not be scaled down if financial support was reduced or if an additional contribution to the town were needed.

“I don’t want you to see this as a gun to your head, I’m just giving you the reality,” Adams told Keator. “We’re not trying to put these dollars in our pocket, they’re to benefit the development and the people who’ll live there and to benefit the town. We’re going to do the best we can to deliver all those things.”

Meanwhile, the Zoning Board of Appeals is scheduled to resume its consideration of the proposed development at its March 2 meeting.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com or on Twitter @BE_cfanto.

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