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Brattleboro Housing Authority offers plans for new senior housing on Canal Street

Red Clover Commons to replace Melrose Terrace

BRATTLEBORO—After more than a year of site evaluations, feasibility studies, and planning, the Brattleboro Housing Authority (BHA) announced the site for a new senior housing complex to be called Red Clover Commons.

The 55-unit, three-story building will be located on a 2.8-acre site at 464 Canal St., next to Walgreens.

“We are moving the Melrose [Terrace] residents out of the floodway,” said Christine Hart, BHA executive director.

In 2011, Tropical Storm Irene flooded Melrose Terrace, a public housing complex for seniors and disabled adults in West Brattleboro.

The BHA repaired the damaged buildings while looking for a new housing site. The final Melrose resident displaced by the flood returned in April 2012.

The 80-unit complex, constructed in 1965 before flood maps, sits in the floodplain of the Whetstone Brook. After Irene, the BHA and its commissioners pledged to relocate Melrose residents out of harm’s way.

The BHA discussed the new Red Clover Commons in a meeting with officials from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and representatives of Vermont’s Congressional delegation on Sept. 24.

“With the help of Housing Vermont, our development partner, we’re well into the predevelopment phase,” Hart said in a press release.

The BHA is partnering with Housing Vermont to construct Red Clover Commons. The Burlington-based nonprofit development company, founded in 1988, regularly partners with local organizations to build affordable rental housing. They have helped create more than 4,800 affordable apartments in 155 housing developments.

The BHA considered multiple properties before whittling the list down to five strong contenders. The locations included three BHA-owned properties, Melrose Terrace, Moore Court, and Hayes Court.

Land that was part of the former R.S. Roberts auto dealership on Canal Street, and the People’s Bank/Renew site on Putney Road, also made the list.

During a telephone interview, Hart said that the Canal Street location was a favorite of Melrose residents during site visits.

“They just beamed,” she said.

Tentative plans for the new building include a community room with warming kitchen, community garden space, and space for the Support and Services at Home (SASH) health program, as well as an on-site manager.

Hart emphasized that the design team and developers will ask for input from the Melrose Terrace residents and the broader community.

“This site has many advantages, including its proximity to a grocery store, pharmacy and the hospital,” Kathy Beyer, Housing Vermont’s Director of Development, said in a press release.

“Our goal is to create convenient, attractive, and affordable housing for the residents. Just as important, however, is to recreate the same sense of community that residents enjoyed at Melrose Terrace.”

Housing Vermont secured an option for 464 Canal St. in July. Hart anticipates the permitting process to start in November. Housing Vermont must still formally purchase the site. Construction should start September 2014 and wrap up the following autumn.

The estimated $13 million project won’t prove simple with the partners needing to acquire multiple permits, zoning, brown field remediation, and HUD approvals, said Hart.

Permitting for the project begins in October, with the first funding applications to follow.

The Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development has included a $5 million allocation for the BHA in its request to HUD for Tropical Storm Irene disaster recovery efforts. If awarded, the funds would go toward purchasing the Canal Street property.

“[It demonstrates] fantastic, incredible support for the state to do that,” said Hart.

Hart initially thought the housing authority only had the money to construct 40 units at Red Clover Commons. The $5 million made a 55-unit building possible.

To obtain federal funds, BHA and Housing Vermont will also have to complete an environmental impact assessment, said Hart. The partners completed the first phase of the assessment and will soon start the second.

The location is likely contaminated with petroleum products, said Hart. The Windham Regional Commission is assisting the BHA through its brownfields remediation program.

“We have a fantastic team,” said Hart.

Gossens Bachman Architects of Montpelier, which worked on the new Brattleboro Food Co-op building, is preparing the plans for Red Clover Commons.

TAG Associates Inc., based in Norwood, Mass., will consult on the project. Washington, D.C.-based Reno & Cavanaugh will assist with the extensive HUD regulatory process.

Hart said the BHA started evaluating new housing sites a year ago.

Red Clover Commons is the first phase of a three-phase project to replace the 80 units at Melrose Terrace, said Hart. The BHA will also need to find a second location for 25 units and the housing authority’s offices. Phase three will resolve what to do with Melrose Terrace, which the BHA owns.

Still facing BHA and Housing Vermont: keeping tenant rents affordable by obtaining tenant protection vouchers for relocating Melrose residents. Public housing rent should be no more than 30 percent of a person’s adjusted gross income, said Hart.

Red Clover Commons, however, will exist outside HUD’s public housing inventory because, unlike its other properties, the BHA will not own the site. Ownership will sit with Housing Vermont, while the BHA will provide property management, said Hart.

So, although the project may qualify as low-income housing, most Melrose residents can’t afford low-income rents, she added.

It’s imperative BHA continue to preserve public housing level rents, even though Red Clover will not be a public housing building, Hart said.

This is a “rather huge project,” said Hart, who added she hopes the community will continue to support the BHA’s efforts.

“There’s a lot [of questions] we can’t answer,” she said. “We’re just starting.”

The BHA announced the news to residents before issuing its press release. Although residents did not cheer the upcoming changes, Hart characterized their reaction to the siting as “pleased.”

Hart described the Melrose buildings as sturdy. But, she added, they were built before energy efficiency, accessible design, and floodplain maps were in vogue.

“In huge ways [the new housing] will be a radical change from the Melrose Terrace we have now,” Hart said. “[Red Clover Commons] won’t be Melrose Terrace. It can’t be.”

Nevertheless, the BHA hopes to create a place where residents can live safely and engage in their community, Hart said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #222 (Wednesday, September 25, 2013).

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