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Amherst OKs money for Rolling Green

AMHERST — With financial assistance from the town, Boston developer Beacon Communities is ready to purchase Rolling Green Apartments and keep at least 41 of its 204 units reserved for low-income families.

But as Town Meeting Monday overwhelmingly agreed to spend $1.25 million from the Community Preservation Act account for this sale, members narrowly approved a Planning Board request for more time to study revisions to an existing town bylaw that mandates affordable units be added to all large-scale residential developments.

Town Manager John Musante said the town appropriation allows Beacon, which owns and manages 12,000 apartments throughout the Northeast, to buy the 422 Belchertown Road property from EQR Equity Residential of Chicago.

Musante said the deal will provide stable ownership for the complex, long-term affordability for 41 or more families and a series of capital investments.

“Both EQR and Beacon have done business together in the past and are working together in good faith to expedite the signing of a purchase-and-sale agreement for Rolling Green,” Musante said.

Musante said he would not yet divulge the price, observing that Beacon is seeking additional funding from the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development.

“We’ve got a great opportunity now,” said James Oldham, a Precinct 5 Town Meeting member and member of the CPA Committee, pointing out that the town is spending just $30,000 per unit. “It’s a well thought-out deal.”

John Hornik, a member of the Housing and Sheltering Committee, agreed. “We cannot build or purchase new units at that price,” Hornik said.

The units will be rented to people earning no more than 80 percent of the area’s median income. All current tenants had been notified last year that they would be facing annual 5 percent increases in rents until their units became market rate.

The agreement, though, does not necessarily prevent the town from falling below the state requirement to have 10 percent of its housing stock subsidized under the state’s Chapter 40B law. Musante said he is working aggressively to have as many affordable units as possible counted toward this inventory.

Meanwhile, the so-called inclusionary bylaw may return to Town Meeting in the fall, despite some members arguing there is an urgency to force developers to provide affordable housing. The Planning Board request for more study passed by an 86-70 tally vote.

Planning Board member Robert Crowner said the board has been engaged in drafting the article for a year to ensure that all new residential developments have housing for low-income families, but the measure is not quite done.

“We’re as disappointed as anyone with this recommendation,” Crowner said.

The board’s concern is that any mandate for the downtown and village centers, as written, would not get the desired affordable units built.

Oldham proposed defeating the referral for more study out of concern that projects such as the proposed redevelopment of the Amherst Carriage Shops would occur without any affordable housing.

Maurianne Adams of Precinct 10 said the town has already seen three projects permitted — Boltwood Place, Kendrick Place and Olympia Place — that did not provide any affordable units.

But Baer Tierkel of Precinct 5 said Town Meeting was not a place to construct a zoning article, and Joan Temkin of Precinct 8 said the zoning change is too complicated to adopt without more study.

Musante said he appreciates the Planning Board’s intent to bring the article back in the fall.

“They’ve done a lot of good work on the inclusionary zoning proposal to date,” Musante said.

Select Board member Constance Kruger said the proposal will benefit from more time so that it can win support from all constituencies. “It’s about consensus building,” Kruger said.

Town Meeting dismissed two articles submitted by Vincent O’Connor of Precinct 1. The first would have limited the ability of town officials to issue waivers from the requirements of the municipal parking district, and the second would mandate affordable housing be included in all housing projects requiring any special permits. Neither could be adopted because the Planning Board had not held hearings on them, but many members asked that the articles be referred to the Planning Board for more study.

Town Meeting also unanimously adopted easements at the Munson Memorial Library to allow South Congregational Church to do drainage work and pave its driveway and to allow the state to reconstruct Amherst Road in Pelham. Town Meeting also voted to spend $120,000 from the water fund to purchase 1.15 acres on Overlook Drive and an additional $380,000 from the water fund to buy 24 acres on Sumner Mountain Road in Shutesbury to protect the Atkins Reservoir, which supplies drinking water to about one-third of the town’s residents.

The town will seek Drinking Water Supply Protection Grants to cover half the cost and would not buy the Shutesbury land without the state money.

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