Committee recommends housing proposal for White Cliffs


Committee recommends housing proposal for White Cliffs
A rendering in the proposal by Metro West Collaborative Development.

NORTHBOROUGH – The White Cliffs mansion may soon become intergenerational housing. 

During their Jan. 26 meeting, the committee recommended to the Board of Selectmen that a contract be awarded to Metro West Collaborative Development. The vote was 4-1 with Selectman Julianne Hirsh dissenting. 

Hirsh said she didn’t have enough information on the affordable housing need in Northborough, how it is financed and any benefit it is to the town. She questioned how many Northborough residents would qualify. 

She said a major criteria was potential use of the property by town residents who have invested in the property.

“The ability for any resident to go on that property and use the community room is very vague,” she said.

How the town got here

Northborough solicited a request for proposals (RFP) for the redevelopment and reuse of the mansion. In total, three developers responded; one proposer was deemed not to have met the minimum criteria.

On Jan. 12, the two remaining developers – Metro West Collaborative Development and Historic Artifact Preservation Organization (HAPO) – presented their proposals to the White Cliffs Committee. 

After that meeting, committee members filled out grading matrices. According to Brett Pelletier, HAPO received 67 points, and Metro West received 112. 

While HAPO sought to develop collaborative workspace and an event venue, Metro West proposed the construction of 52 units of rental housing. 

During the meeting, members praised the creativity of HAPO’s presentation, but some voiced concern about their experience. Member Tom Reardon said HAPO’s ideas didn’t go together. He added that their methodology called for using volunteer labor and donations to restore the property. 

“That’s a nonstarter for me,” Reardon said. “They don’t even know what the Secretary of Interior’s guidelines are for the procedures and the methods you use to restore a historic property.”

Chair Todd Helwig said he didn’t think it met any of the criteria of what the committee was looking for. 

“I don’t believe we ever really got numbers from them, and whatever scanty numbers we had didn’t seem close to being able to preserve the White Cliffs structure which was the primary mission that we were charged with,” Helwig said.

In their response to the RFP, HAPO estimated that the total development would cost $3.8 million. The study done by DBVW indicated that it would cost between $6 to $11 million to do any rehabilitation or adaptive reuse of the property, Pelletier said.

According to Pelletier, they requested financial backups, resumes on the principals, presentation files and additional budget. As of the meeting, they hadn’t received them. 

Members noted that Metro West has worked together as a team and have experience working with historic properties and affordable housing. 

“I think the town needs housing. I like the idea of having affordable housing. I think it’s important to the community,” member Norm Corbin said. “I’m proud that we have 10% [affordable housing] and can do better.

“I really don’t think that we need more office space, even if we call it cooperative offices. I don’t think we need food truck pads on that property. Any small units that he wants to put in are unique, and they might be good for little start-ups, but honestly, I don’t envision them on the property,” said Corbin.

Member Diana Nicklaus said that during the feasibility phase, she hadn’t been excited about the idea of housing being added to the site. 

“But after hearing and reading what Metro West has done on other sites, I think this would be a brilliant solution for many reasons,” Nicklaus said. 

Helwig noted that the committee received public comment via email, who he said were opposed to Metro West’s project.