Affordable housing plan near Vergennes holds promise

WALTHAM — A Waltham affordable housing project that the Addison County Community Trust (ACCT) has looked at for years now could become a reality.

The ACCT has applied to the Waltham Development Review board for a conditional use permit that would allow the trust to install seven modular duplexes on a 2.3-acre Maple Street Extension site that until 2009 housed the Gevry trailer park.

A public hearing on ACCT’s roughly $3 million proposal to clear off and then redevelop the remnants of the abandoned park will be held at 6:30 p.m. on May 13 in Waltham Town Hall.

ACCT Executive Director Elise Shanbacker said if all goes well, the project could be complete by next spring on a parcel that abuts Vergennes and is served by municipal water and sewer.

The modular duplexes — to be build by a company based in the Vermont town of Wilder — would be rented to families at a rate equal to 30 percent of 60 percent of Addison County’s median income. Using the 2012 median annual income of $57,785 (as reported by USA.com) that rent would be around $867 per month.

“The rents will be affordable to families making 60 percent or less of area median income,” Shanbacker said.

Funding for the project is forecast to come from the sale of low-income housing tax credits, which Shanbacker said should be awarded this week; a Vermont Housing and Conservation Board grant that is expected in June; and a Vermont Community Development Block Grant, for which ACCT will apply in the fall.

ACCT already owns and operates a number of parks in the county, including the nearby Otter Creek Park in Vergennes, its largest; Middlebury’s Lindale park off Case Street; and, among others, facilities in Bristol, Starksboro and Ferrisburgh. 

Former ACCT Executive Director Terry McKnight approached Waltham about a Gevry Park project in 2009, and several options have been discussed since then, including senior housing and possibly creating owner-occupied units. The project stalled after that until the former owners agreed to sell the property to ACCT after a lengthy time on the market.

Shanbacker said she discovered McKnight, who died in November 2014, had also talked to Gevry Park residents as far back as 2002 about the trust possibly assuming ownership of the property.

“It’s certainly been a long time coming,” she said.

Shanbacker said the 14 affordable units would meet a critical need in the area.

“In the latest housing needs assessment that came out, Addison County still has a vacancy rate below 1 percent, and in particular I think there’s a lot of demand for family housing,” she said.

Waltham has been short on affordable stock since the last occupant moved out of Gevry Park in 2009, Shanbacker said. 

“It’s been a loss. There are only two parks in Waltham that basically form the affordable housing base in the town,” Shanbacker said. “And since Gevry hasn’t been open for several years it’s been a big loss in affordable housing for them. So I think we’re excited to see the affordable housing come back.”

Plans call for a new access road into the property and larger turnaround, which along with fewer homes will mean meeting fire safety standards, Shanbacker said, thus addressing concerns that Waltham zoning administrator Ken Wheeling raised at the February selectboard meeting.

Two other issues that concerned town officials were a broken sewer line to the property and leaking fuel tanks in the park.

Shanbacker said the development plan includes a new sewer line and pump station via the nearby Thomas Circle in Vergennes.

Meanwhile, she said steps were being taken to address the fuel issue. Phase 1 and 2 environmental assessments and other work have been completed and leaking aboveground leaking tanks removed, while groundwater is being monitored.

Contractors will remove any “contaminated soils in the development footprint,” Shanbacker said, while other soils would be subject to a monitoring plan.

Shanbacker said a representative from Phelps Engineering would attend the April 28 Waltham DRB meeting to explain technical issues.

By around the spring of 2016, she hopes ACCT can begin to offer affordable rental units with municipal utilities in a location that is within a mile of downtown Vergennes.

“I think this will be a very attractive opportunity for folks,” Shanbacker said.

Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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