Affordable Housing Trust talks new units in Westborough

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Affordable Housing Trust talks new units in Westborough
The Westborough Affordable Housing Trust is interested in building affordable units on this town-owned piece of property behind the Nelson Ball Pickleball Courts. (Photo/Caroline Gordon)

WESTBOROUGH – The Westborough Affordable Housing Trust is interested in building affordable units on town-owned land off Endicott Drive.

The project was presented to the Select Board last month, prompting some praise from local leaders.

“I’m glad to see the creativity in locating a piece of property because I certainly would not have identified that piece of property,” said Select Board member Patrick Welch on June 14.

What is proposed

The Nelson Ball Pickleball Courts are located on the property, which has an entrance onto Lyman Street and is adjacent to the Lake Chauncy parking lot.

Behind the pickleball courts is a wooded area, according to trustee member Hank Rauch’s presentation.

“The town owns pretty much all of that wooded area,” Rauch said.

The site is approximately five acres. Rauch estimated that about 50% was vacant, though parts of the site can’t be used because of wetlands.

Rauch said the trust has talked with Town Manager Kristi Williams and the Recreation Department to see if there were any pending plans or interest from other departments in the remaining part of the site.

He recalled that there wasn’t, though he noted that funding had been approved by Town Meeting to build a pavilion to support the pickleball courts.

The trust hired WDA Design Group, which had done the layout and engineering for the pickleball courts. WDA created a cursory site plan and unit concept, which Rauch presented to the Select Board.

WDA reported that the site has potential for between one to three units of affordable housing, Rauch said.

“What they did is they penciled a triplex,” he said. “One could reduce that, could make it any scale. That was the maximum utilization one could achieve on the property, ignoring zoning requirements at this point.”

The property is currently zoned M-1 town owned, but Rauch noted that the adjacent properties are zoned residential single family.

He suggested that the town could extend Endicott Drive, which is currently a dead end, to access the site.

“There’s water, sewer, gas and electric — all that available on Endicott Drive,” Rauch said. “[That] makes it really a feasible development site.”

WDA also suggested that there could be access to the site through the parking lot, though Rauch said it was “unlikely” that the trust would consider that option.

“When you build affordable housing, it’s helpful to couple it to a neighborhood,” Rauch said.

Allen Edinberg, who is also a member of both the trust and the Select Board, emphasized that the draft design of the units was hypothetical. It wasn’t definitive whether the units will be built to be sold or rented, he said.

He said the trust has discussed having one of the units being on a single floor and accessible.

“We’ll really look at where we see market need for it,” Edinberg said.

Next steps

The Select Board gave its support for the trust to take the next steps in the project.

Rauch said their next step is to present the project to the Recreation Commission before beginning to visit other boards and present their proposal.

Additionally, Rauch said the trust will need to talk with the state Department of Housing and Community Development about options for zoning and “friendly” 40B development.

The state affordable housing law, known as 40B, allows developers to overrule local zoning and apply for a comprehensive permit with the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Edinberg said the trust would get agreement with the Planning Board and go through the normal review process with other boards.

With the support of the boards and Planning Board, then they would go to the ZBA with the project, Edinberg said.

The trust will return to the Select Board with a solid proposal in either the late fourth quarter of the current fiscal year or early in the first quarter of next fiscal year with the hope that, if the project was interesting and feasible, it could be placed on the warrant for Town Meeting in spring 2023 to transfer the property to the trust.

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