Town officials are still seeking a way to smooth the complicated bump in the road that has nearly derailed the construction of two new affordable housing units on Church Street in East Milton.
The Planning Board gave unofficial support for the two units of affordable housing that Pulte Homes plans to build at 199 Church St.
However, members said it would need to hold a public hearing on the plans before taking an official stand, and to consult with the town’s housing committees.
The units are part of what was required from Pulte when the town agreed to sell the company most of the former town poor farm land and allow it to build 23 single family homes there.
The board will hold a public hearing on potential changes to the 2017 special permit that would allow the units to be rental units.
Those units could be developed by Pulte and then transferred to the town’s Affordable Housing Trust or the Milton Housing Authority.
The state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) recently told Planning Board members that they would not accept a two-unit condominium building to count toward the town’s subsidized housing inventory (SHI) because that type of condo is too problematic for homeowners.
The SHI inventory is used to figure the percentage of affordable housing in the town. Towns with fewer than 10 percent of affordable units are subject to the constraints of the 40B state regulations, the so called anti-snob zoning law. Milton is currently at about 5 percent affordable.
Attorney Marion McEttrick, who was recently hired to represent Pulte, said that in recent conversations with the DHCD, she was given assurance that the units would be allowed to count toward the SHI if they were rental units instead of condominiums.
She said Pulte is proposing that the units, which would be affordable in perpetuity, be conveyed and managed through the Housing Authority or the Affordable Housing Trust.
“It is unforeseen what has happened,” McEttrick said. “This is not in the guidelines. There is no way that the town could have known it or that Pulte could have known it, so what has happened is that you have issued a special permit that is impossible.”
McEttrick urged the board to act quickly since the closing on 199 Church St. has been delayed several times.
“You don’t have months and months,” she said.
McEttrick said she was able to get the quick response from DHCD because “this is an urgent situation.”
Planning Board member Richard Boehler, who was not on the board when the special permit was issued, said that he disagrees with the units being rentals but wouldn’t attempt to derail it. He said he is in favor of more affordable housing.
Boehler said he was “surprised” by the DHCD’s support of the Church Street rental units since he thought the agency was concerned that the units were unequal to the luxury homes being constructed on the site of the former town poor farm.
The size of units has been questioned since one offers less space than was required under the original special permit. The homes that Pulte is constructing are selling for roughly $1.4 million apiece.
Board member April Lamoureaux said she agreed that homeownership is preferable but does not remember a lot of discussion about home ownership versus rentals when the original permit was issued.
“At no time did I think we were going to produce a 3,000-foot house like you’re probably building,” Lamoureux said, directing her comments toward Pulte representatives. “Personally, I want to see as many units added to the SHI as possible, even if it’s only two, even if it’s rental and not home ownership.”
Planning Board Chair Cheryl Tougias agreed.
“Our goal is to get affordable units,” she said. “That’s what the town was trying to do.”