BRATTLEBORO—If you could redevelop Melrose Terrace, what would you create? The Brattleboro Housing Authority wants to know.
When it comes to planning for what BHA Executive Director Chris Hart calls “Melrose Terrace’s second life,” the sky is the limit. Hart has set a goal of receiving 100 ideas from the community.
She won’t comment on what finances or regulations might allow at the site. “I want your ideas,” said Hart. “I don’t want them influenced by anything. This is the creative part of looking at this property. We can apply those rules later.”
The BHA, the West Brattleboro Association, and the town have entered the first planning phase of redeveloping the 8-acre, 18-building public housing property in West Brattleboro that now caters to elderly and disabled adults.
Melrose Terrace has housed many a beloved family member, said Hart.
“It’s emotionally important to the community and we shouldn’t lose sight of that,” she said.
After Tropical Storm Irene’s floodwaters swamped the 50-year old housing development in August 2011, the BHA board of commissioners pledged to move the Melrose residents to new housing.
Federal regulations forbid housing elderly or disabled adults in a floodway, yet the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) allowed the housing authority to repair the flooded Melrose buildings while the BHA located replacement housing.
“This beautiful setting could, and should, have a good second life,” Hart said of Melrose.
The BHA had considered holding a public meeting to solicit ideas, said Hart. Instead, the group decided that gathering information through email, postcards and letters, iBrattleboro, phone calls, or in person would free people’s creativity. People can comment anonymously.
After the BHA has compiled the list of ideas, it will give the list to a group of state and federal employees with backgrounds in finance, planning, and regulation.
This group will evaluate Melrose through its own filters, but the BHA wants it to start with knowing what the community thinks could work, said Hart.
Once the state and federal experts have made their recommendations, the BHA, WBA, and the town will compile the information. Public meetings will follow.
Hart believes that good processes create good outcomes. People may not agree with the final product, but they will understand how the BHA came to its decision, she said.
Hart stressed that the three organizations were collaborating closely on the redevelopment of Melrose. The disagreements that arose between the BHA and town after Irene are water over the dam, she said.
While Hart resists giving parameters to potential ideas, she does have one requirement for moving forward: Doing nothing is not an appropriate solution, she said.
The BHA could walk away from Melrose and let the buildings decay. It would be easy. It would be legal. But it would not be honorable, said Hart.
Melrose will have a new life, she said.
The field of possibilities for Melrose may soon expand, however. In January, the BHA applied to remove Melrose’s’ HUD declaration and shift it to the BHA’s new housing project Red Clover Commons.
A HUD declaration forms the legal basis for public housing property to receive funding and subsidies. It also is the legal framework on which HUD hangs its regulations.
According to Hart, if HUD removes Melrose’s legal declaration — which seems likely — then the property can be redeveloped for more uses than what HUD allows.
Shifting the HUD framework to Red Clover is a crucial part of building, operating, and providing rental subsidies at that new housing complex, said Hart.
The project team behind the $13 million Red Clover Commons, at 30 Fairground Rd., chose the location to replace Melrose Terrace after a long vetting process.
Red Clover has entered the permitting phase.
Hart said that the project’s funding has come together. The Selectboard, Development Review Board, and Planning Department have rolled up their sleeves to lend support.
The housing authority has also worked with the neighbors to ensure Red Clover fits within its new community.
Meantime, the vision for Melrose begins.