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Montague board backs minimum apt. size change

Recorder file photo
The Montague Zoning Board of Appeals approved Mark Zaccheo’s plans for creating parking for his planned apartment complex at the former Montague Center School.

Recorder file photo The Montague Zoning Board of Appeals approved Mark Zaccheo’s plans for creating parking for his planned apartment complex at the former Montague Center School.

TURNERS FALLS — A plan to decrease the minimum apartment size in Montague garnered initial approval on Tuesday with a unanimous vote by the Planning Board, which recommended it as an item for consideration at town meeting.

The Planning Board voted to ask the Board of Selectmen to put the measure to reduce the minimum living space for multi-family dwellings from 700 to 500 square feet, with further reduction possible on special permit, on the meeting warrant.

The decision followed the second of two meetings that drew continued protest from Montague Center residents, an extension of the controversy surrounding the plan to sell the former Montague Center School for renovation as apartments.

The Zoning Board of Appeals granted two special permits and a variance from the 700-square-foot minimum for 10 of 22 proposed apartments, a decision a group of abutters has appealed with a lawsuit now awaiting trial.

Opponents repeated objections voiced at the first hearing that Zaccheo’s development would negatively impact the character of the village, but, unlike the first hearing, opposition from the audience was not unanimous.

Montague Center resident Paul Voiland spoke in support of the move, arguing that potential for smaller apartments would encourage renovation of decaying buildings.

Robin Sherman, executive director of the Franklin County Regional Housing and Redevelopment Authority, said Franklin County has an extremely low housing vacancy rate — 2 percent compared to a desirable 5 percent — and the tight market drives up prices. Sherman said more apartments will create slack in the market and benefit seniors trapped in homes they can’t afford, the young, and single veterans required to use Veterans Administration vouchers on single-occupancy housing.

“People need different housing at different points in their lives and having stable housing allows people to lead stable lives,” Sherman said.

Planning Board member Robert Obear said the town has a good proposal for the school property and if the abutters kill it, the property will eventually go up for auction to a highest bidder who could take advantage of affordable housing mandates to push through a larger and denser development.

Member Bruce Young said the issue was one of a zoning law that should be changed for the whole town.

“To me I don’t care if the Montague Center School development goes forward or not, for me this is a perfect time because we have everyone’s ear,” Young said.

Town Planner Walter Ramsey said the existing zoning promotes construction of single-family homes over renovation of existing homes for more residents. “It’s a simple issue of sustainable land use,” he said.

The Planning Board did not specify a date with their request. The next town meeting will likely be the annual meeting in May. If put on the warrant, the final decision will fall to the elected representatives of the town’s six precincts and will require a two-thirds majority in order to pass.

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