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Ashfield eyes senior housing bylaw

A proposed Senior Housing Bylaw in Ashfield would create standards for multi-apartment senior housing in a designated district in the center of town.
(Recorder file photo)

A proposed Senior Housing Bylaw in Ashfield would create standards for multi-apartment senior housing in a designated district in the center of town. (Recorder file photo)

ASHFIELD — With at least 20 percent of the town’s population age 55 or older, the Planning Board has drafted a senior housing bylaw that would create standards for multi-unit senior housing within a designated district in the town center.

The board will host a public hearing on this plan Saturday at 2 p.m. in the Town Hall.

The purpose is to encourage development of senior housing in or near the town center, so that older residents have easier access to public services and amenities. Within the proposed “senior housing district,” the Planning Board could grant special permits for one-bedroom or two-bedroom apartment buildings in the village.

The proposal states that only people 55 and older may live in a senior citizens development, and that such development may not constitute more the 25 percent of the total number of dwellings within the senior housing district.

As much as possible, the developments should provide sidewalks or other pedestrian access. Also, the Planning Board may allow mixed-use development if it doesn’t conflict with existing bylaws. New construction should have an exterior design consistent with traditional New England architecture, the Ashfield Historic District, and the town in general. The town’s Historical Commission would review such applications and develop guidelines to help the Planning Board.

Dimensional requirements call for one-bedroom apartments not to exceed 1,000 square feet in floor area, with two-bedroom dwellings not to take up more than 1,200 square feet. New structures and additions cannot be taller than 35 feet. Each development must provide adequate access for emergency vehicles, with any development of five or more apartments requiring at least two means of vehicle access.

Condominium constructions would require a condominium association to oversee maintenance. Apartment developments would require a tenants association to oversee maintenance. Also, each year, these associations would be required to give the town clerk a list of residents’ names and birthdates; if any residents are under age 55, the Planning Board is to be notified.

If owners of a senior housing property wish to change the use to non-senior housing, they must adjust the number of dwellings to conform to current zoning bylaws.

According to information provided by the Planning Board, two groups of residents began working on the lack of senior housing between 1998 and 2002. One was the Purple Panthers and the other was called the Selectboard’s Ad-Hoc Committee on Senior Housing. These groups were formed at a time when the state was providing funds for senior housing, such as Highland Village in Shelburne Falls. “Unfortunately, the money for this kind of thing ran out, and the design model that succeeded in other towns perhaps did not fit so well in Ashfield,” according to a Planning Board statement on the town’s website. “Recently, perhaps inspired by anecdotal requests for more senior housing in town, the Planning Board rewrote the old proposal and is now ready to ask the voters to weigh-in on the issue.”

According to US Census figures for 2010, the town’s population was 1,940, with 449 over the age of 55.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at: dbroncaccio@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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