A dismissive attitude towards affordable housing

To the editor:

Dave Pill’s letter on Nov. 14 castigates those who deep-sixed the Sawmill project’s rental units, fearing they would be occupied by “somehow inferior” citizens. And yet, leaving aside the resolution of ongoing questions of density, setbacks, separation between buildings, economic benefits and other matters, Lenox residents can be justly dismayed by the Windrose Project’s dismissive treatment of affordable housing.

In an exceptionally well-prepared petition dated November 2019, Windrose sought exemption from certain sections of the Lenox Zoning Bylaw. However, the petition made no mention of the need to waive the affordable housing obligation in Section 9.8.5 paragraph 2. Residents were, therefore, confident the Lenox Housing Trust would be receiving cash from the project equivalent to the cost of building two affordable units of comparable appearance with the planned residential development for Windrose Place. With Lenox residents having overwhelmingly approved this by-law requirement, expanding affordable housing by means of the trust has strong community backing.

Asked at the ZBA’s initial Windrose hearing last December why the petition had ignored affordable housing, the applicant surprisingly responded that no affordable housing obligation applied, but, if the ZBA disagreed, payment to the trust should be waived.

At its resumed hearing last January, the ZBA unanimously resolved that the payment obligation did in fact apply to the applicant. By a four-to-one majority, however, the ZBA then waived this obligation “in the public interest”. Although Section 9.8.17 of the bylaw requires the waiver to be consistent with the intent “to promote the general public welfare by ensuring new residential development generates affordable housing,” the hearing’s minutes make no reference to this.

Since there was no amended petition that addressed the affordable housing issue, Lenox residents were blindsided. If timely notice of such an amendment had been provided, concerned citizens would have attended the January hearing and favored the possible granting of the special permit but only if the applicant provided payment to the trust based on independent expert testimony.

Had merely one other ZBA member agreed, the waiver requirement of a two-thirds majority would not have been met and, assuming the ZBA does ultimately grant a special permit for this project, the trust would be receiving sorely needed funds.

Unless the applicant and ZBA are ready to reconsider their positions and proceed civic-mindedly along these lines, Lenox residents will be the losers. Better late than never.

Eric and Carol Haythorne, Lenox