Shires Housing (formerly Regional Affordable Housing Corp.) is planning to build 24 new apartments on a vacant residential site close to downtown Bennington. The site is at an unfinished condominium development -- Appleridge. The developer has no plans to build the remaining units, and the property has been listed for sale for years.
When Jack Appleman began building Appleridge in 2006, he clear-cut a beloved woodlot known as Hawks Woods, that generations of neighbors had enjoyed as privately-owned open space. Assuming that all the condos would sell quickly, Appleman cleared the site and installed the necessary infrastructure -- road beds, water, sewer and electrical lines and connections. The market tanked and sales of the condos stalled. To date, only nine of the original 12 have been sold, and four of the 12 are currently rented.
Shires is proposing to complete an unfinished housing development, that already has a local building permit and Act 250 permit, and that meets all zoning requirements. The development advances objectives expressed in the Bennington Town Plan and Bennington County Regional Plan to create new infill housing and housing for various income and age ranges. The development is in a Designated Growth Center, where the State of Vermont encourages residential growth. It also puts 24 households within walking distance from downtown stores and services, which is consistent with the Town of Bennington’s Economic Development Plan and with smart growth principles.
Most of Shires’ work in Bennington over the last 20 years has been to rehabilitate vacant or run-down buildings such as the Cora B. Whitney School, the historic Carrigan Lane Apartments, and a number of troubled buildings on Benmont Avenue. New construction has been a very small part of Shires work to date (four new units 2009, and 14 in 2012). Rehabilitation and protection of Bennington’s aging housing stock has been and will remain a primary mission of Shires Housing.
If a private developer were to purchase the property now, they could build 28 duplexes with a minor permit amendment and no required public hearings, and could even increase units, because zoning allows for even greater density at the site.
Shires is proposing 24 apartments -- 10 in duplex buildings, plus two small apartment buildings. The apartments will be affordable to people who earn less than 60 percent of the Bennington County median income. For a family of three, that’s around $36,000.
Eight apartments will have one bedroom. A growing number of Bennington households are single people over 55, who can’t afford high rent. While not designated "senior" housing, we expect many applicants will be elders who live on limited and fixed incomes.
Fourteen apartments will have two bedrooms, and two will have three bedrooms. Based on averages from Shires other units in Bennington, we estimate that between five and seven elementary school aged students could live in the development. This is unlikely to cause a burden on the Bennington Elementary School. Shires’ screens applications carefully and only accept households that pass credit and criminal background checks and provide prior landlord references. Once in occupancy, additional people can join the household only if they complete the same application process. Chief of Police Paul Doucette can confirm that there have not historically been crime and drug problems in apartments owned or managed by Shires.
Concerns have been raised about property values of surrounding homes. Numerous studies haves proven that well-designed and well-managed affordable housing developments do not have a negative impact on surrounding property values. This project is no more dense per acre than the Appleridge Condominium, the adjacent Nathaniel Court, or the nearby Silver Street Apartments.
Concerns have been raised about increased traffic caused by the development, especially on Silver Street. While there will certainly be more cars in the neighborhood, a traffic engineer did a study when the original development was permitted that said the additional traffic would be minimal. The firm that conducted the study recently confirmed the conclusion.
Concerns have been raised about "Section 8" at the development. There are no Section 8 subsidies attached to the development. Portable Section 8 rental vouchers will be accepted for applicants that already have them. Section 8 vouchers are often used by elderly and disabled people. In addition, many Section 8 recipients pay the remainder of their rent with money earned from employment.
Concerns have been raised about the purchasers of units at the Appleridge Condominium. Shires staff have been meeting with representatives of the Appleridge owners. Shires Housing has agreed to work with the condo owners to share costs such as plowing and to and ensure that there is mutual respect between residents of the two developments.
Stephanie Calabro lives next to the new Shires development on North Branch Street. When she first heard that Shires planned to build on the vacant lot next to her home, she was less than pleased. But after living through construction, and nearly two years of having new "low-income" neighbors next door, Stephanie told me recently that her fears were not realized. "It’s really not been a problem. Sometimes I miss my vacant lot. But it really has not bothered me at all."
Shires Housing is committed to improving the Bennington Community by preserving and strengthening its housing stock. We look forward to an ongoing dialogue with residents who have expressed concerns about their neighborhoods. We hope to work together on solutions that will achieve our common goals.
John Broderick is executive director of Shires Housing in Bennington.