Town Grapples With Affordable Housing Strategy As Fear Of Large Scale 40B Developments Loom

WILMINGTON, MA — The Town of Wilmington is likely to become susceptible to large 40B housing projects beginning in 2020, if initial projections from Wilmington Planning Director Valerie Gingrich are realized.

40B housing projects do not need to follow local zoning regulations.  Their buildings can be higher, bigger, and denser than what’s normally permitted.

To be able to deny 40B proposals, Wilmington’s housing stock must be considered at least 10% affordable.  (To be affordable, the unit must be deed restricted, affordable to incomes at 80% of the area median income or lower, and meet fair marketing requirements.  Wilmington’s area median income is currently $103,400.)

While Wilmington’s affordable housing rate is currently at 10.4% (810 affordable units vs. 7788 total units), it is expected to drop below 10% in 2020, primarily for TWO reasons.

  • The total number of housing units is recalculated every 10 years during the census.  Wilmington’s total number of housing units is expected to increase from 7,788 units (measured in 2010) to 8,106 units (estimated for 2020).
  • Wilmington is losing 54 affordable units.  These special units, built 12-15 years ago, were restricted as ‘affordable’ for just the first 15 years of their existence and then become fair market units.

“In order to maintain 10% in 2020 when new census numbers are taken, approximately 50-70 affordable units need to be created in Town,” concluded Gingrich.

Selectmen were perfuse in their praise for Gingrich’s presentation, but some questioned her math, wondering if she was overestimating the number of total housing units the town come 2020.  Gingrich got to her total of 8,106 units, in part, by estimating that 120 units will be built in town from 2017 to 2020. This 30-new-units-per-year projection is based on the fact that Wilmington averaged 28 new units annually over the past 7 years.  However, as Selectman Kevin Caira pointed out, there was an outlier of 71 units in 2015.  If you exclude the outlier, the annual average drops to 21 new units.

“The purpose of this presentation was to provide information that — over the course of time (3 months-6 months) — will get us to a place where we can get some direction from the board as to how you want to approach to this issue,” said Town Manager Jeff Hull.

“I want to go on the record and say that I recognize there is a concern by a great many of people about traffic and the school population.  All are appropriate concerns,” said Selectmen Chair Champoux. “The challenge is thrust upon us by Chapter 40B is that we have to maintain 10% or more of our housing stock as affordable. We have to wrestle with that law.”

“I would rather see a new development come into town that will add more congestion & traffic in a way that’s on our terms and in a place we want it to be, consistent with fabric and feel of the community, rather than a development shoved down our throats with no say,” continued Champoux.

Selectmen requested additional information as they consider a gamelan to prevent the from falling below its 10% affordable housing rate.

Selectman Greg Bendel, for example, asked to see housing figures from the first half of 2017, to get a better idea of “hard numbers” rather than projections.

“I don’t want to take a conservative or a proactive approach, I want to take an educational approach and have more information before voting,” noted Bendel.

“I understand the town trying to be conservative, but I don’t know if 8,106 is relabile figure, with such a wide range between 17 new units [in 2013, 2014, and 2016] to 71 new units [in 2015],” agreed Selectman Mike Champoux.  “Maybe we’ll be OK once we get the real numbers.  I want to take action based on information, not fear.”

Bendel asked that a meeting be scheduled, similar to the recent Butters Row Bridge meeting, where the public is invited to come in and give their feedback on potential affordable housing strategies.

Bendel and Selectman Mike McCoy also specifically asked to hear the thoughts of town’s housing consultant on the matter.

About That Rumor Of Hundreds Of Apartments Coming To Main Street

Planning Director Valerie Gingrich also addressed a hot rumor in town that a large scale housing project was being eyed for the old Xpedx site at 613 Main Street.

“I haven’t heard or seen any proposal for that site,” said Gingrich, which backs up previous public comments from Town Manager Jeff Hull.  “The site is currently zoned industrial, so any housing development proposal would need to go to a Town Meeting for a rezoning vote.”

Gingrich did qualify her statement, noting that “as a vacant site, someone is probably looking at it.”

Selectman Mike McCoy, who originally brought the rumor to the attention of the townspeople at the 2017 Town Meeting and at subsequent Selectmen meetings, doubled down on his insistence that the rumor is out there.

Resident Kim Peterson, who lives behind the Xpedx site, spoke out at the meeting, confirming she’s heard the rumors as well.

“There is a very large opposition to any development in that area,” Peterson told the Selectmen.  “The fear is out there that there’s going to be a large scale development… There’s a rumor that a developer has already set his sights on the land.  We’re afraid of a back door deal.  Petitions are ready.  Signatures are ready.  I’m hoping the rumors are not true.”

Selectmen told Peterson they were unanimous in opposing any large housing development on the site and would advocate for the land to remain zoned for industry.

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