Construction to begin next year on Photec Mill affordable housing complex in Williamstown

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WILLIAMSTOWN — A 41-unit affordable housing complex on the property of the former Photec Mill is expected to see construction begin early next year.

The 330 Cole Ave. property has been the focus of the project since 2014. Elton Ogden, president of the Berkshire Housing Development Corp., told the Williamstown Select Board last week that the financing needed for the $16.7 million project finally had been secured and that design efforts are ongoing. He said he hopes to see construction to start in the spring, with completion and occupancy targeted for the second quarter of 2021.

He said the work likely would take about 14 months.

Ogden was there to seek an extension on the company's contract to purchase the parcel from the town. The Select Board unanimously agreed to extend the option to buy. Ogden said the money should be secured by February, at which point he hoped the sale of the property would close. He noted that the permitting process, essentially, is complete.

"It aligns well with the construction season and the abatement efforts," Ogden said.

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He noted that $9.3 million is coming from federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits, with an additional $4.1 million coming from the state's Department of Housing and Community Development. A $200,000 contribution from the Williamstown Community Preservation Fund and a $500,000 federal low-income loan for affordable housing construction leave the project with a gap of about $2.5 million, which the Berkshire Housing Development Corp. will fill with a reduced-interest mortgage from Mountain One Bank.

The 41 units will be a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom rental apartments. To qualify, tenants would have to make less that 60 percent of the local median income, which is about $60,000.

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The plan is to use the former mill building, known as the cube, for one-bedroom apartments, and build four new sets of townhouses on the property for two- and three-bedroom apartments.

One neighbor of the property, Kevin Kennefick, said he was concerned that the property is too likely to flood, as he witnessed with Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. He also questioned the wisdom of concentrating so many affordable housing units on one property, and advocated that it should be developed for mixed incomes.

Ogden noted that the design takes high water potential into account by raising the ground level for the new buildings by 12 inches above the current level, and the homes' infrastructure, such as furnaces and mechanicals, would be installed above ground, to minimize any potential flooding damage.

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Select Board member Hugh Daley said that with 41 units, which will wind up housing roughly 80 people, the development isn't large enough to result in issues.

The Cole Avenue parcel is assessed at about $140,000. Because the town owns the land, it does not generate any tax revenue.

The contract, signed in 2015, sets out that the town will sell the land for $1. Once Berkshire Housing takes ownership, it will land back on the town's tax rolls. Once it starts generating property tax revenue, it would take about five years for the town to reclaim the value of the land, according to officials.

The Berkshire Housing Development Corp. also was part of the team that built Highland Woods, an affordable housing project in Williamstown that opened two years ago.

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.


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