BENNINGTON -- The Select Board may be having second thoughts about the support it offered for a $5.5 million housing project proposed near Silver Street.
At its last meeting, the board voted four to two in favor of being the recipient for a community development block grant on behalf of Shires Housing, a non-profit housing corporation formerly known as the Regional Affordable Housing Corporation (RAHC).
The grant is for $700,000 and is from the Vermont Community Development Program, which allocated federal funds to such projects. To receive the money, Shires Housing needs the town to be the intermediary. It has not been awarded yet. The project involves building 24 condominium units on a plot of land currently owned by Applejack Real Estate, part of which has condominiums already on it. The new development will be "workforce housing" accepting people with incomes between $26,000 and $36,000 per year.
Board members who voted against supporting the grant said they had questions about the need for housing in Bennington and what effect the development would have on private landlords.
At Monday’s meeting, two local landlords voiced their objections to the vote. Doris Lemieux said she was "quite offended" at statements made by Shires Housing Executive Director John Broderick about private rental properties in town being below standard. She also accused Shires Housing of paying less taxes than private landlords.
John Hale, another landlord, said he is not able to compete with rents offered by Shires Housing. He asked the board to reconsider its vote.
Board member John McFadden said he was not happy with the fact Broderick had wanted an answer the night of the public hearing. McFadden and board member Justin Corcoran, who voted "no," said they felt the board should adopt some policy in which it waits until a follow-up meeting before taking such actions, giving time for the public to weigh in, questions to be answered, and board members to mull over their vote.
The board will likely discuss the project at its next meeting; however, board Chairman Greg Van Houten said he is not re-opening the public hearing.
Corcoran wanted to know if the board could rescind its support, and asked for a motion on withholding that support until the questions were answered. He could not make the motion himself, as he had voted in the minority and no other board member did as he asked.
Town Manager Stuart Hurd said that because the town is technically receiving the grant, it may have the option of rejecting it if it is awarded.
Hurd said he would ask Broderick to come to the next meeting, as well as John Antognioni, an assessor for the town, who could better explain how commercial properties are taxed.
No town funds are being used for the project. Broderick said that besides the $700,000 grant, Shires Housing will seek a second grant from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, as well as the ability to sell tax credits to investors.
Broderick did not return a call seeking comment on Tuesday.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.