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BHA zeroes in on 5 sites for affordable housing

A lot of support, but a long road ahead, for process that could end with up to 300 new units

BRATTLEBORO—Melrose Terrace, Moore Court, Hayes Court, the former R.S. Roberts property on Fairground Road, and the People’s United Bank/ReNew lot on Putney Road have made the final cut as the Brattleboro Housing Authority (BHA) moves ahead with creating new affordable housing.

If these sites prove feasible, they could provide 260 to 300 units.

Project Manager Adam Hubbard said these five properties represent the best of the best of the 25 properties vetted by the BHA as potential housing sites. The BHA’s Whetstone Alternative Studies team revealed its final short list of five properties at a public meeting on Sept. 20.

According to Hubbard, identifying the five properties spelled an end to the study portion of the BHA’s estimated five-year property redevelopment. The next phase will entail conducting detailed feasibility studies of the properties.

Hubbard said he counted almost 40 state, local, and federal departments, agencies, and divisions that will review the BHA redevelopment project.

“The trick to it is to remember these are people’s lives,” said Hubbard. “It’s not always about the stream bank. It’s not always about the ag soils. It’s about our community and people’s lives.”

BHA Executive Director Chris Hart said that Brattleboro and the state have not experienced as large a development of new affordable housing as the BHA has planned. Vermont develops about 200 units a year statewide. The BHA wants to develop at least 280 in Brattleboro alone.

The study committee began its vetting process with 25 properties. The areas were evaluated for their quality, function, and impact on natural resources. From this process the committee chose six properties.

Melrose Terrace, Hayes Court, and Moore Court are owned by the BHA, and currently in use.

Also in the mix are a portion of the parking lot at Academy School on Western Avenue, and a parcel of vacant land off Route 5 and Partridge Road called the Algiers Meadow.

Together with the R.S. Roberts site, Hubbard said that these six areas could provide 260 units of potential public housing.

The final five properties, Melrose Terrace, Hayes Court, Moore Court, R.S. Roberts, and Peoples/ReNew (a parcel between the People’s United Bank operations center and ReNew Salvage on Putney Road), could provide between 260 and 300 units.

Increased need

Hubbard said Brattleboro circumstances at both the BHA and town-wide have contributed a need for 280 housing units.

The BHA had slated the 72 units at Hayes Court for redevelopment. The buildings had outlived their useful life, said Hart.

According to documents from the alternative studies committee, the BHA had completed feasibility planning. The housing authority was on the cusp of submitting an application for demolition when Tropical Storm Irene’s flooding began.

The floods damaged Melrose Terrace, displacing some residents until repairs were completed. The 80 units have also been evacuated three times in 10 years because of flooding, according to the documentation.

Moore Court, built in 1972, is due for rehabilitation, said Hubbard.

On a community-wide level, the 2011 Brooks House fire displaced 60 people. Irene also took five units at the Mountain Home Mobile Home Park, said Hubbard. An additional 25 units sit in the floodway and should be moved for safety reasons.

Glen Street Mobile Home Park lost 11 units to Irene’s flooding.

Hubbard said that the community will probably need an additional 100 to 200 additional housing units to keep up with the need for affordable housing beyond what the BHA’s redevelopment project will provide.

The committee still expects to swap the housing profiles for Melrose Terrace and Moore Court. Melrose Terrace would transform into family housing while Moore Court would become senior and disabled adult housing. According to Hart, an executive order signed by former President Bill Clinton prohibits seniors, people with disabilities, or child care centers to be housed in flood plains.

Families tend to be more mobile and not require special medications or equipment like oxygen tanks, said Hart. This regulation has repeatedly met with scoffs from the audiences attending public meetings at Melrose Terrace and Hayes Court.

“There goes my happiness,” said a female Melrose Terrace resident.

Hubbard said the BHA wanted to keep as much of Melrose Terrace’s infrastructure as possible because the well-made buildings represent millions in solid infrastructure. The design team is looking to remove about seven buildings in the floodway, create a flood plain by constructing a flood wall deeper into the property, and then add second stories onto the remaining Melrose Terrace buildings.

BHA Commissioner Christine Connelly said that the two non-BHA properties, R.S. Roberts and Peoples/ReNew, impressed the committee.

The People’s/ReNew property, currently an undeveloped tract of land, has “amazing views,” said committee members. The R.S. Roberts site, once a car dealership, is situated close to community services.

While three of the five properties already belong to the BHA, the People’s/ReNew and R.S. Roberts properties will require further negotiations.

Although People’s United Bank has expressed interest in further conversations with the BHA about purchasing its lot off Putney Road, permission to purchase the land is not set in stone, said Hubbard. Also, the R.S. Roberts parcel is considered a brownfield and will require additional environmental studies.

Glen Park resident Mary Durland read a letter from Glen Park resident Bill Billard who said he lived near the Brattleboro Food Co-op during construction of its new building. He described the experience as two years of “no peace.” He asked the BHA to consider the impact noise and dust on neighbors during construction.

Hubbard also presented concept drawings of the five potential sites. He called them the “concepts of the first order of sketchiness” and said they could change as the project progressed.

The results of feasibility studies, permits, funding, and costs will determine the redevelopment’s final outcome, said Hubbard.

The BHA is applying for a $100,000 planning grant from the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Fund, said Hart.

This summer, the federal government granted a waiver allowing U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Irene disaster funds to go to Windham County. Previously, of the $21.6 million in Community Development Block Grants (CBDG) granted Vermont through HUD, 80 percent was required to go toward Washington and Windsor Counties.

Through work by the state’s Congressional delegation, the waiver allows $4.5 million to assist with disaster recovery in Windham County.

Hart said that the BHA will likely use a mixture of public and private funding to develop the five potential properties. And the housing authority will need all the financial help it can get, she added.

According to Hart, the BHA had about $1.7 million in reserve before Irene arrived.

Every funding agency will want input on the project, she warned the audience. Sometimes the federal, state, and private agencies’ requests won’t always make sense but “they’re paying the bill.”

“Get ready folks, it will be quite a ride,” said Hart.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #171 (Wednesday, September 26, 2012).

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