Finance committee members spent the majority of their Tuesday meeting in a comprehensive conversation on the pros and cons of offering developers the option of making a cash payment rather than including affordable units in their developments. Finance committee members spent the majority of their Tuesday meeting in a comprehensive conversation on the pros and cons of offering developers the option of making a cash payment rather than including affordable units in their developments.  In the end, the group unanimously approved a pair of articles that would make this a reality if approved by voters at Annual Town Meeting.{sidebar id=4}

The group discussed Article 14 that offers developers payment in lieu of affordable housing units and includes specifics on maximum incomes of housing applicants, selling prices of affordable units and resale restrictions.  Article 13 that would create an Affordable Housing Trust Fund to hold these payments and be used by the town.  Both articles are being proposed by the planning board.

Finance Committee member Judi Barrett presented both articles to her colleagues and authored them for the planning board.  She said her participation stemmed from last year’s Annual Town Meeting where she made an amendment to have similar language removed from the Comprehensive Plan/Zoning Bylaw Implementation Committee (CPZBIC) proposed bylaws passed by town voters.

Barrett said her concern was the way the fee was set up and she promised after last year’s meeting to help sort through the issue and help get the language back in the zoning bylaws, a move being sought for the March 13 gathering.

According to the article, an applicant can contribute a cash payment to the fund to be used for the development of affordable housing by the town or its designees, in lieu of constructing and offering affordable units within their development.  For each affordable unit not constructed or provided through current methods spelled out in the bylaw, the fee shall be the difference between the median sale price for a new, single-family home built in Duxbury in the past three fiscal years and the purchase price of a new home that is affordable to a qualified purchaser.{sidebar id=1}

Barrett gave the example of a median of $675,000 and the affordable purchase price of $195,000, which would mean the developer would have to contribute $480,000 into the fund for each unit.

The fee proposed at last year’s town meeting was a flat fee, she added, which did not take into account growth or how it covered the town’s costs.

After some committee members questioned why emphasis should be put on the fund and not on flatly requiring affordable units from developers, Barrett said that "we are not in this for the money, but the affordable units."

"Whether [the applicant] provides affordable units, puts them off-site or [contributes to the fund], it doesn’t matter," she said.  "The town will benefit.  I believe [applicants] will cut a check to get through the process faster."

By using the fund, she said, the town can build new and moderate units, rehabilitate and sell existing units, acquire and rehabilitate buildings for units and other options.

"This gives the town the power," she said, adding that the town is not a developer but rather a funder who can work with non-profits and other entities to create affordable units for residents to stay in town.

Committee member Pat Dowd indicated that she had concern over the fund in terms of who controlled it and didn’t want to see money just sit there unused.  In the article, expenditures from the fund are authorized by a majority vote by selectmen, in consultation with the local housing partnership.  Barrett reassured her that citizens would not let that happen, either speaking up or making change during elections.

Planning Director Christine Stickney was present at the meeting and credited Barrett’s hard work to get the articles written and noted their support by the Community Development Committee and the Board of Selectmen.

The finance committee also voted to approve both articles unanimously.

Finance committee members also unanimously supported planning board-sponsored articles to correct a typo in the bylaws (Article 29), to update the town’s street map (Article 27) and to designate nearly 70 roadways as "scenic roads" (Article 26).  The committee also voted to approve the planning board’s motion to indefinitely postpone Article 28 which seeks to amend language in the zoning bylaws to remove the use of gravel.