June 25, 2024

The Needham Channel

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Needham Hopes to Support Affordable Senior Housing, But How?

The Select Board discussed a potential agreement with the developer of a senior living facility, which would mean a financial contribution to the town instead of including affordable independent living units.

reported by: Yuxiao Yuan
At its meeting on Tuesday, August 9th, the Select Board discussed a draft memorandum of agreement related to the potential senior home development at 100 West Street. If the town and the proponent companies reach an agreement, there would be nearly two million dollars contributed to the town for affordable housing, quiet zone, or other initiatives. However, it also means the development might not include any affordable independent living units for senior residents.

The existing three-story building at 100 West Street, which once housed the assisted living facilities Avery Manor and Avery Crossings, has been vacant since it closed in 2018. In 2020, a Norwood based developer, LCB Senior Living, partnered with the property owner, Welltower. They proposed the development of a four-story senior home that included 72 independent living units, 55 assisted living units, and 28 memory care units. To bring this proposal in line with the town’s zoning bylaws, the Needham Planning Board sponsored a pair of zoning articles at that year’s Special Town Meeting. Those articles would create a new zoning district called the Avery Square Overlay District. One of the reasons the proposal got a lot of support from Town Meeting members and the Select Board was the potential creation of the nine affordable independent living apartments for senior residents.

In May 2021, the Planning Board issued the special permit to allow for the development of the proposal. They specifically required nine of the independent living units to be designated as affordable, and further determined that local residents should be prioritized in 70 percent of those units. In February of 2022, Welltower notified the Planning Board that LCB senior living was no longer interested in pursuing the project. They entered into a business relationship with another company, Balfour Senior Living. This new partnership intended to develop the property without independent living units citing space and layout constraints. Instead, they are focused on providing a superior level of assisted living. Welltower has applied to the Planning Board for a new permit, and then suggested making a financial contribution of one million nine hundred thousand dollars to offset the removal of the 72 independent living units and nine affordable units from their plan. These funds could be invested by the town into community efforts such as affordable housing, quiet zones, and other local transportation safety initiatives. Both the Planning Board and Select Board expressed disappointment with the proposed changes.

In a letter written in February, the Select Board urged the Planning Board to “challenge Welltower and Balfour to rethink their proposed amendment, and to keep the independent living component portion of the project.” Still, as contemplation of the developers Memorandum of Understanding has continued over the intervening months, community feedback to the board has been critical. Select Board chair, Marianne Cooley commented on the tone in some of the letters residents have sent to the board, which suggested the board would be ‘selling out to town for payment’ if they settled upon the agreement. She said, “I would say to the many folks in the town who wrote letters to the Select Board…concerned that our first reaction would be to ‘sell out the town’, to use the words that that came in some of the letters. I want to assure you that I’m giving you grace at this moment…and that I hope you will give our board grace as well. Because I know that everyone who serves here constantly has the town of Needham’s best interest in our hearts, minds, and actions. I would hope that you will understand that, as well.”

Town counsel Chris Heap said the draft agreement still needs revisions, and even if the town and the applicant agree upon the memorandum, it does not guarantee a special permit. “That draft was meant to memorialize a financial contribution from the applicant to the town, and that’s it. It was not going to secure a permit or an approval to proceed with the new project. That is entirely within the province of the Planning Board. That will all be decided by the Planning Board when it reviews and acts on the new special permit application that it currently has pending.”

Select Board member Matt Borrelli stressed that the agreement and permitting are independent procedures. “So this money, as you said earlier, is separate from that. They’re going to have their own process. They’ll have conditions, whatever they may be. That’s under the jurisdiction the Planning Board. Our job was to say, ‘Okay we also felt like this is not…what was sold to the town at Town Meeting. So what can you do as an owner to mitigate that for the town?'”

Other board members also expressed support of the negotiation. “It’s really a bitter pill that this has been switched,” stated Kevin Keane. “I understand the outrage–and the outrage meter is at 11. I understand why, so I wish they would change it around and fix it, but otherwise, you know…we can get something out of it that would be worthwhile.”

Marcus Nelson added, “We may not be all in agreement with it, but we know that this is the best course of action for how we can use monies that will be allocated, if the permit is granted, to help do good things in our town and help people. I think that’s something that we think of in every turn, and every moment that we come together as a board in our collective individual lives.”

The Planning Board will host a public hearing next Tuesday, August 16th at 7 pm at Powers Hall in Town Hall regarding the special permit.

This story ran as part of the Needham Channel News, a weekly newscast airing on The Needham Channel every Thursday at 7:30pm. The Needham Channel News can be found on the Community Channel: Comcast 9, Astound 15 and Verizon 29. Most Thursdays it also can be viewed on our HD Channel on Verizon 2129, Astound 613 and streaming on this site.