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Selectmen Ask LexHAB for Affordable Housing Design at Busa Farms

The board instructed LexHAB to return with a schematic design for four to eight affordable housing units on the property.

Although it’s still early in the process, the Board of Selectmen wants to look into building four to eight units of affordable housing along Lowell Street at the Busa Farms property.

In a unanimous vote Wednesday, the board directed the Lexington Housing Assistance Board (LexHAB) to come back with a schematic design for such a project.

Before the vote, selectmen Chairman Hank Manz stressed that all affordable-housing options are still on the table for the property and that they still will be after LexHAB returns with a design proposal.

Selectman George Burnell agreed.

“A great deal more work still needs to go into this,” he said.

Rest of the Busa Farms Property

The board’s discussion with LexHAB and the Community Preservation Committee Wednesday focused solely on the affordable-housing component at Busa Farms – and not what would be done with the rest of the eight-acre lot.

A group has come together – as that has been its primary purpose for 350 years. Another group wants to see athletic fields put in on the property.

The town purchased the land, which is on Lowell Street near the Arlington town line (just after the Summer Street split), in December 2009 for more than $4 million.

The Selectmen have already agreed to put affordable housing on a portion of the property, but they haven’t decided on where it should go or how much should be built.

LexHAB’s Unofficial Recommendation

At the beginning of Wednesday’s meeting, LexHAB Chairman William Hays said his board has not yet taken a formal stance on a potential Busa Farms project. However, he said its general consensus is that eight units of affordable housing should be built on the property over the next four years.

He said after talking with the Planning Department, his board believes that this much affordable housing will be needed in order for the town’s level of affordable housing to keep pace with the town’s future development as far as the state’s Chapter 40B requirements are concerned. Chapter 40B mandates that 10 percent of housing qualify as affordable housing.

Hays said his board thought – again informally – that the affordable housing, which would be farmhouse style, should go in across from Litchfield Road, leaving the rest of the property open for other use. However, at the suggestion of Selectman Peter Kelley, the schematic design will focus on the frontage farther down Lowell Street, after the last house to the Arlington town line.

“I think it’s the best place,” Kelley said. “I think it’s where we should put our focus.”

Other Ideas

Selectman Norman Cohen also wanted LexHAB to look into the cost of splitting the units – building some in Kelley’s suggested area and some in their own. However, his amendment was voted down. LexHAB’s Les Savage said there would be significant additional costs to splitting the project, primarily from added utilities work.

Selectmen also discussed ways to get Lexington residents or people with Lexington connections into the affordable housing units, instead of random people through a state-run lottery.

About 20 people attended the meeting, in addition to the Selectmen and representatives from LexHAB and the Community Preservation Committee.

Hays said LexHAB would come back with a timetable for the schematic design at the Selectmen’s next meeting.

Manz said after Selectmen receive a schematic design and the process moves forward, there will be public hearings where residents can discuss the project with the board.

Sandra Shaw October 28, 2011 at 01:19 PM
The author has incorrectly stated that some are considering "athletic fields for Busa" - actually the Recreation Committee has proposed one field. It would be a multi-purpose field to ease the serious shortage in Town for fields to accommodate soccer and lacrosse. This is the only proposal which came before the CPC for funding to purchase the Busa land, and later the purchase was approved at Town Meeting.
Beth October 28, 2011 at 03:58 PM
It was an interesting discussion at that meeting about how to better manipulate the system in order not to use required lottery for affordable units and not to follow affirmative marketing requirements. LexHab wants to interview and hand pick applicants which is a questionable strategy for an agency not properly monitored at the state level. There is also some kind of grandfathered agreement with Chapter 40B DHCD Subsidized Housing Inventory (SHI) to count some existing LexHab units as affordable without proper lottery. LexHab and Housing Partnership are afraid to even ask DHCD about Mr. Brunel’s proposal to build more units and to count them all as affordable and only use lottery on 25% of the units. If they ask, DHCD may have a change of heart and ask LexHab to use proper procedures on all units. What if Lexington's citizens ask DHCD to follow proper procedures? We have to be fare to everyone after all. More fun staff to follow ... :)

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