BENNINGTON -- The state has agreed to allocate $700,000 for a grant applied for by Shires Housing in order to help fund a $5.5 million housing project that has been heavily opposed by residents in the Silver Street neighborhood.
Josh Hanford, director of the Vermont Community Development Program, said Thursday that while the Vermont Community Development Board, which hears applications, has agreed to set aside the funds, an award agreement has yet to be drafted and sent to Shires Housing, the non-profit housing corporation seeking to build 24 rental units on the site of Appleridge Condominiums.
The award agreement will come with a list of requirements that must be met for the money to be given, Hanford said. The Bennington Select Board must also agree, by resolution, to accept the funds on Shires Housing's behalf.
On July 15, a letter from Patricia Moulton, secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, was sent to David Fredrickson and Jean McKenna, Bennington residents who went to the Vermont Community Development Board hearing in Montpelier to voice opposition to the project.
Moulton, who signed the VCDB's recommendation to allocate the money, said the board voted unanimously in Shires Housing's favor with one board member abstaining. She also outlined the reasons why she approved the funding.
According to Moulton, the project directly supports the Vermont Community Development Program's goals and priorities, it supports "smart growth principles, is located at an infill location, is close to downtown and out of the floodplain," has already leveraged and secured close to $6 million in private and public funding, will support economic activity, increase tax revenues, bolster the town's grand list, and provide "quality, energy efficient, affordable housing for 24 families."
If built, the Shires Housing project will be called "Monument View Apartments." The proposed site is on undeveloped land that was cleared in 2006 by the Bennington Development Review Board to be a condominium development. Only nine units were sold as part of that development before the housing market deflated.
The Shires project would be open to those making between $25,000 and $36,000. The group says it runs background and credit checks on all residents seeking to live there.
When it came before the Select Board to ask its support in applying for the grant, the board agreed to give it, but ever since then those living around the site have been showing up to meetings asking that the board reject the grant funding when awarded.
The opposition sites, among other things, drastic change to the character of the area, negative impacts on crime rates, property values, and school taxes as reasons the project should be allowed to continue.
Board Chairman Greg Van Houten released a statement last week saying while the board would have the legal authority to reject the grant, doing so might open it to legal liability and be in bad form besides. Opponents roundly rejected these claims.
To go forward, Shires Housing also needs approval from the Bennington Development Review Board, which like the Select Board has heard from residents about their concerns. A DRB meeting on Tuesday was heavily attended, and many were frustrated when DRB Chairman Charles Copp said the board could only consider things that applied to the town's bylaws.
While Copp said at the meeting that impacts of potential new children on the school system could not be addressed, a recess memorandum he signed and released Wednesday said they in fact could.
According to the memo, the DRB will ask the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union to provide an opinion of the proposed project's impact on the school system. "The DRB also requests that the SVSU provide the following information: The student enrollment projections (5 years, 10 years, etc.) for the Bennington School District that were being used when Catamount Elementary School was closed, the current BSD enrollment, and current enrollment projections for BSD," the memo reads.
Evidence in writing can be submitted before July 24 to the DRB through Planning Director Dan Monks via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail or in person at 205 South Street, Bennington, Vt., 05201. Verbal testimony may also be given at the Aug. 5 DRB meeting.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.