Proposal laid out to create more affordable housing in Adams

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ADAMS — New hires in Berkshire County are having trouble finding good housing.

That's according to John Duval, a member of the Adams Select Board and executive at General Dynamics who spoke during an informational session for town residents about the proposed zoning change to allow Smart Growth Overlay Districts.

"We have to change the housing stock in Adams," Duval said.

About 80 people attended the meeting Tuesday night to hear more about the proposal to use this new zoning tool at several sites to encourage new mixed-use redevelopment and additional housing. Otherwise known by its state designation as 40R, it is a tactic that is encouraged by the state to allow redevelopment in town centers of under-used or blighted existing properties.

During the informational session, Adams Town Administrator Jay Green introduced real estate attorney Don Dubendorf to explain the mechanics of the 40R proposal.

He said that the state law was passed in 2004 and amended a few times since then to make it more effective. It was designed to allow municipalities to incentivize developers to reclaim existing, under-used buildings and urban spaces to provide more housing and commercial business investment in urban neighborhoods.

There are 19 properties identified in the proposal that would be included in four overlay districts. They include the Adams Memorial School, Hoosac Valley Elementary School, two former mills on Hoosac Street, the Old Stone Mill, the former armory and the Community Center.

Of the housing units built under 40R, 20 to 40 percent of them must be "affordable" housing. It's a term used by the state to refer to workforce housing that would serve professionals such as teachers, police officers, postal carriers or librarians who earn a decent wage but still can't find quality housing that they can afford to rent. Such housing also would be attractive to empty nesters or young families.

Dubendorf noted that it would not involve Section 8 vouchers or any other voucher system.

The measure would create an overlay district for each of the targeted parcels that an owner could choose to use for a redevelopment project. If the owner prefers to function under the original zoning, he or she would have that option as well.

Among the properties, town officials have estimated that a total of 629 housing units potentially could be created.

If the proposal passes the Planning Board during its meeting Monday and then passes the muster of the Select Board and at town meeting, town officials said that the state would pay the town $600,000, and then $3,000 per residential unit created. This could total more than $2 million over time.

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Any project proposed by a developer would have to be vetted by the Planning Board and go through the town's permitting process.

The payout to the town from the state is meant to be used to enhance the town center around the redevelopment parcels and to help pay for city services needed by the additional populace.

Dubendorf noted that redevelopment and reinvestment are needed in Adams to rejuvenate the tax base and community.

"The people of Adams are growing older, poorer, and there are fewer of them," he said. "As a community, Adams needs to grow. More people mean more growth, which means a bigger tax base, which leads to lower tax rates and a more vigorous downtown."

Jonathan Butler, president and CEO of 1Berkshire and former Adams town administrator, explained that from a countywide view, one of the primary challenges to growing the economy is a need for workforce housing. There are plenty of new hires happening in companies like General Dynamics and Wayfair, but the new hires are reporting that it's difficult to find affordable quality housing.

Duval reiterated Butler's point.

"Why do this now? Because we're losing right now," he said. "We're behind the eight ball. [General Dynamics] is hiring hundreds of people and they're looking for quality housing. But what we've got here is not that good. That's what they are saying."

He added that with new housing near downtown, new retail and commercial activity would result.

"It would significantly change the retail formula downtown," Duval said.

Responding to a question from someone who lives next to one of the sites, Green said that there are provisions in 40R to allow for a project to make adjustments to alleviate any issues caused to abutters by the project.

In order to qualify for affordable housing units, which will be identical to the market-rate units, a single tenant would have to make less than $49,700 annually. For a family of four, that maximum yearly income level would be $70,950. For the other 60 to 80 percent of the units that are market rate, there is no maximum limit to how much income that renter would need to qualify.

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


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