Lake Paran Village plan moves forward

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SHAFTSBURY — A 22-unit housing development has been awarded more grant and loan funding, adding capital to a project that officials hope will begin construction this fall.

Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston has awarded Shires Housing Inc. a grant of $500,000, along with a subsidy of $76,537 and a loan of $200,000, for its Lake Paran Village development. The bank also awarded a $500,000 grant to Housing Trust of Rutland County, for the preservation of 40 rental units in Fair Haven.

Shires Housing has secured $1.9 million of the about-$7.2 million total cost of the Lake Paran Village development, including this recent award. That funding is mostly in grants and loans.

Securing funding like this is important in the process of getting things like housing tax credits, as those who provide funding like to see that others are also providing support, said Stephanie Lane, executive director of Shires Housing.

"It gives you a stronger presentation, and a more compelling case [for other funding]," she said.

The project is currently in the permitting, Act 250 and Development Review Board process.

Act 250 refers to the state environmental review process. Shaftsbury's Development Review Board held a hearing Wednesday on the development, which they continued to their Jan. 16 meeting.

Select Board Chairman Tim Scoggins said he's excited about the project, calling it something the town "desperately needs."

Scoggins attended the Development Review Board meeting Wednesday, where, he said, he spoke about the benefit of the project.

In his work with the Regional Economic Development Group of the Bennington County Regional Commission, Scoggins said he hears from area employers that housing is a key issue.

"The two problems that we hear about from employers are first, attracting people to the area, and second, if they are able to do that, those people have trouble finding housing," he said.

Affordable housing in Southern Vermont tends to have about a year-long waiting list, he said.

In all of Shaftsbury, there are currently seven units of affordable housing — all of which are of Shires Housing, Lane said.

That's not enough.

Market studies demonstrate a low vacancy rate and a strong need for affordable housing, she said.

"Employers have also made a connection to the lack of housing opportunities and struggle recruiting," she said.

Lake Paran Village will consist of 22 mixed-income rental units in four buildings in a rural development adjacent to conservation land and Lake Paran. Two units will be handicapped-accessible.

The 6.5-acre site is mostly vacant land; Shires Housing has site control of the whole site and an agreement to purchase the land, Lane said.

Shires Housing anticipates that construction will begin this fall, with completion expected within 12 months. If that deadline is met, the organization hopes to lease every apartment within four to six months of the completion date, Lane said.

The project will be in close proximity to public transportation and local recreation opportunities, on land adjacent to a land conservation district.

Shires Housing plans to incorporate a community walking trail, and a 1.8-acre section of the site will be permanently preserved, Lane said.

The site will also have common green spaces, open front porches, walkways and preservation of natural and man-made features, she said in an email.

Fourteen of the apartments are targeted at households earning up to 50 percent of the area median income, four for renters earning up to 60 percent of that income, and the remaining four apartments are for market-rate residents, up to 120 percent of area median income.

Lane said her organization is "very confident" that they will garner all the funding they need for the development. The development previously almost received full funding, but Lake Paran Village was "bumped" for a project with greater need, she said.

Last April, the Select Board voted 4-1 in favor of acting as a conduit for the project's funding, despite calls from some members of the public to vote no.

"I think it's important that everybody understand that is all we're doing," board member Art Whitman said at that meeting. "We're not approving or disapproving the entire project, we're only to answer whether or not the town is a conduit for the money to pass through."

Tom Huncharek, chairman of the town's Development Review Board, told the Banner he could not comment on the project due to his need to maintain a neutral position on the matter.

Overall, community response to the development has been favorable, Lane said.

But of course, there have been concerns, she said.

"There's always, at the onset, a little bit of misinformation ... and people panic a little bit," she said. But Shires Housing has addressed concerns brought up by the community, and some of those changes have improved the response, she said.

Shires Housing added a planned biking path and sidewalk to the front of the property to address concerns about pedestrian traffic on Paran Road, she said. Their decision to move the development to the west side of the site was also influenced by community input, she said.

Lane said she expects to see both families and downsizing seniors apply for the affordable units at Lake Paran Village.

Right now, there isn't much affordable housing, so the development will help with the need, she said.

"I think it puts a dent in it," she said. "It doesn't solve it. One at a time."

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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