|Habitat for Humanity Making Plans for Williamstown's Summer Street Lot|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff |
05:41AM / Friday, August 18, 2023
|A second Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity home on a parcel of land donated by the town at the corner of Cole Avenue and Maple Street in Williamstown is nearing completion. The first home, left, has been occupied since 2021.|
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity is making plans to develop four single-family homes on a Summer Street residential lot the Affordable Housing Trust acquired in 2015.
To make the project work, the non-profit is hoping the trust can help pay for 300 feet of road to access the homes it wants to build.
Keith Davis of Habitat approached the trustees at their Wednesday meeting to make an initial pitch for $120,000 in financial backing to get the project going.
"The original proposal was two houses on that lot, but the lot is almost 1.75 acres," Davis told the board. "It's a huge lot. I was looking at that and saying there's absolutely no reason we shouldn't be able to put four houses in."
Davis said the next step for Habitat is to talk to a civil engineer about developing a site plan to make sure the lot can accommodate all four homes.
In terms of the road, Davis said the non-profit does not want to do a common driveway to the four homes but rather build a street that eventually can be accepted by the town, which would be responsible for maintenance and plowing.
Davis said the residences could legally be served by a common driveway, but there are practical considerations.
"The problem is who is going to pay to maintain it and plow it," he said. "It creates a multitude of problems having common driveways. We want not to be landlords. We want to turn it over when we're done.
"We don't want Habitat to have ownership in the development at all."
Davis referenced a previous Habitat project where the non-profit's board is dealing with disagreements among homeowners over a common drive years after the homes were occupied.
As for a Summer Street timeline, Davis said the non-profit would like to break ground as soon as 2024 if the engineering works out and the permitting is approved. He estimated that each of the four homes would take about two years to complete, making the last ready for occupation in about eight years, or 2032.
The trustees have talked about the Summer Street lot as having the potential for two homes, like a parcel it bought at the corner of Cole Avenue and Maple Street at the same time eight years ago.
Davis said one of the trustees asked him about putting duplexes or triplexes on the Summer Street lot to maximize its potential. But single-homes work better with the non-profit's process, he said.
"If we tried a two-unit or three-unit or four-unit house, it would take twice as long to get that house built," he said. "With the Habitat model, we have the owners chosen before the build, and they provide 250 hours of sweat equity. In some cases [with a duplex], you wouldn't be able to move in for four years."
Habitat has been on a two-year pace for its recent projects in town. The first home on the Cole/Maple lot was started in 2019 and finished in 2021; the second home, which will have a Maple Street address, should be ready to welcome a family of five in early October, Davis said on Wednesday.
Coincidentally, the $120,000 grant Davis suggested for the road matches the amount of Community Preservation Act funds town meeting granted to the Affordable Housing Trust in May. But Chair Andrew Hogeland noted that the trustees would have to get legal guidance on whether CPA funds can be spent on infrastructure, like a road, as opposed to the houses themselves. The trust originally bought the 1.75-acre lot in question with CPA money.
If there is a restriction in state law around using the CPA funds for that purpose, the board members noted they may have a workaround. Some of the Affordable Housing Trust's reserves in recent years has been replenished with American Rescue Plan Act funds through the action of the Select Board
, and it was noted that ARPA funds can be spent on infrastructure.
While taking no action on Wednesday night, the four trustees in attendance seemed receptive to Davis' request and expressed their appreciation to the work of Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity as a partner with the trust in developing both lots the AHT acquired in 2015.
"I and the trust are thankful for the work you are doing now and will be doing," Thomas Sheldon said. "It's been a rich partnership. I mentioned before the meeting to Keith that I have a friend who works for Habitat in the Albany area. He has looked at what's been done here, and he's highly complimentary."
In other business on Wednesday, the trustees briefly addressed the current draft of the next townwide Comprehensive Plan. Hogeland prior to the meeting shared with his colleagues the current ‘action plan" as drafted by the Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee and asked them for any feedback they might want to give that panel.
"I thought there were some promising ideas in the diverse housing solutions section, as they called it," Sheldon said. "There were 12 of them, and a number of them seemed promising."
None of the trustees offered changes to suggest to the CPSC, which includes Daniel Gura, an Affordable Housing Trust board member who was unable to attend Wednesday's meeting.