BENNINGTON - Those opposed to a $5.5 million housing project were not happy to hear many of their qualms would not be heard by the Development Review Board, even though the bylaws indicate those issues can be considered.
Roughly 50 people turned out Tuesday to oppose an application submitted by Shires Housing to build 24 units of rental housing on land that in 2006 was approved for condominiums. The project has been met with resistance from those who inhabit in the area of Silver Street near where the project will go. Residents have been coming to Select Board meetings, urging the board to not facilitate federal grant funds to the project, citing what they will be negative impacts on traffic, property values, school taxes, and the character of the neighborhood.
The DRB is the town's governing body when it comes to building permits. Chairman Charles W. Copp explained at the outset of the meeting that people would be under oath when they presented evidence to the board, and that the board can only consider aspects of the project governed by the town's bylaws. He said people could submit what they wanted, and the board would say whether it was relevant or not.
Dave Fredrickson, a Bennington resident and member of the Mount Anthony Union School Board, had a list of issues with the Shires project that included the impact of school taxes from increased numbers of students, crime rates going up, there already being enough "low-income" in town, lowered property values, and Shires Housing's business model allegedly not being sustainable.
Copp said the board could not consider those things, but Tim Morrissey, a Bennington r esident, pointed out that the town's bylaws allow the DRB to look at the impact on schools.
He also said the bylaws give the DRB the authority to consider changes to the character of a neighborhood, which Copp agreed that they do. Earlier, Fredrickson said the 24-unit project would be making the neighborhood far more dense.
Residents raised concerns about increased traffic, green space, and drainage, which the DRB said it would consider.
Planning Director Dan Monks said people could submit evidence in writing to the DRB as well, and it would determine what it can consider there in a similar fashion. He said there will be a written notice on what the board chooses to look at and what it does not, and if people feel it was in error they can file an appeal to the Vermont Environmental Court.
Copp said no decision would be made Tuesday over whether or not to approve the project. The next meeting is Aug. 5, and while the DRB can approve the project at that meeting, it is not obligated to. It can meet as many times as it wishes until its questions are answered.
A number of the board's inquiries were answered at the meeting by Shires Housing Executive Director John Broderick, and MSK Engineer Jason Dolmetsch, who did the site plans for the project.
Broderick said Shires Housing runs background and credit checks on renters. This particular project will be limited to people who earn between $25,000 and $36,000.
The project is not based on taking Section 8 vouchers, but it can not refuse those with portable ones.
Dolmitsch said this project is proposing less units than the condominium project the board a pproved in 2006 as proposed by Applejack Real Estate, which currently owns the land and will transfer it to Shires Housing when the permits are in place.
He said traffic reports and models indicate there will be no significant increase in the number of cars moving through the area, and that the drainage system will handle water run off adequately. There should be no blasting work, but a large mechanical hammer will likely be used to break up rock.
The board wished to know how the units would be heated, by oil or propane, and where the tanks would go.
The developers agreed to supply that information.
Broderick said Wednesday that the site has an Act 250 permit already, but Shires Housing will seek an amendment to it for this project.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter@KWhitcombjr.