BENNINGTON -- The Select Board Chairman has released a statement saying there is no legal or procedural reason to reopen or dismiss a public hearing for a controversial $750,000 housing grant, nor should the board reject said money if awarded, even though it could.
Board Chairman Greg Van Houten released the statement Wednesday.
In June, over two dozen people showed up to a board meeting to express their dislike of a proposed $5.5 million housing project that would be built off Silver Street on land that was to be part of the Appleridge Condominium development. Numerous letters have also been sent to the Banner from people opposed to the project.
Shires Housing, a local non-profit, is applying for the grant from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. If the project is built it will be 24 units aimed at people with incomes of between $25,000 and $36,000. Those numbers are calculated based on federal statistics.
The conservation board would not award the money directly to Shires Housing, but would give it to the town of Bennington which would pass it to Shires. Shires is not seeking any financial assistance from Bennington directly. The balance of the project's funding would come from selling tax credits to investors.
The question of whether the town could opt to not accept the money if it did not wish the project to go forward was asked at the June meeting, to which the board and Town Manager Stuart Hurd said they suspected the answer was "yes," but would have to speak with the town's attorney.
"If the board were to refuse to administer a grant that it had previously agreed to accept, there is the possibility that the town could be held liable for any expense an organization incurred in reliance on the original acceptance," Van Houten wrote.
The board has voted twice to accept the grant should it be awarded. There were two votes because the warning for the initial public hearing omitted some information regarding options for people with impaired hearing. While two board members have been against the project, there does not appear to be a desire from other board members to reject the grant.
If financing for the project is secured, it would still need approval from the town's Development Review Board which would review and take public comment on issues like traffic and economics.
Local landlords have said the project would offer them unfair competition.
"Also of note is the negative impact such a refusal of a grant would have on funders considering future grant applications to support community improvements, planning, or development," Van Houten wrote. "The board's decisions should not be taken lightly, and an indication of such a cavalier attitude can negatively affect future decisions on such matters."
Refusals to accept grants are typically done when a law or regulation has been breached or some condition changes during the process, he wrote.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.