Aired December 22, 2022. WELL Belfour Senior Living proposed a compromise on independent living units at the latest Planning Board meeting, but is it enough to satisfy the project’s critics?
reported by Yuxiao Yuan
In response to comments from disappointed residents and neighbors, WELL Belfour came back to the Planning Board with a new proposal for the development of senior housing near the Needham Heights Commuter Rail Station. They would like to add nine independent living units to the project, but with none of them designated as affordable, will the community be content with the compromise? At the Planning Board meeting on Monday, December 19th, residents once again expressed their disappointment in the number of the proposed independent living units, and the lack of affordable units included in the planned development at 100 to 110 West Street. In 2021, the Planning Board green lit the development of a senior living facility at that location, where Avery Crossings and Avery Manor had occupied, but which has been vacant since 2018. That proposed renovation and expansion would have accommodated 55 assisted living units, 28 memory care units and 72 Independent living units, including nine affordable ones. A few months before the approval of the project, town meeting cleared the zoning hurdles for that site in order to enable such a development because many Town Meeting members believed the developer would build the facility as proposed. However, when a new developer, WELL Belfour Senior Living, took over the project, it revised the proposal to remove all the independent units, citing economic restraints. Belfour also suggested making a financial contribution of 1.9 million dollars to offset the changes from the original plan. The addition of nine independent apartments was far from appealing to the residents in attendance at Monday’s hearing, especially since the number is just below the 10 independent unit threshold that would trigger the 12 and a half percent affordable housing requirement under the zoning bylaw. “Nine Independent Living Units does not meet the purpose of the overlay district amendment,”testified attendee Maggie Abruzese.”We’ve discussed the history of how and why this amendment got passed, and we were promised nine units of affordable housing.” Planning board member Artie Crocker echoed the sentiment of the attendees, “We were sold at town meeting. The town was looking for…this, this needs to be better than what it is. The town was looking for that. The town needs…the town needs Independent Living.” The developer had stated their willingness to maintain the 1.9 million dollar contribution. Planning Board Vice Chair Jeanne McKnight said she would like to have one of the nine units be designated affordable, and suggested a proportionate reduction of the amount of compensation from the developer. “I took the 1.9 million as proposed to be paid to the town and divided it by nine which was the number of affordable units and that’s $211,000. So I’m talking about something in that ballpark to be reduced the amount of money paid to the town but that there would be one affordable unit. I think that’s very important to the town.” There was a discussion among the board members about whether it had the jurisdiction over the amount of the independent apartments in the application. Chair Adam Block warned, “I think we just have to, as a board, think very carefully about what the scope of our actual legal authority is under our bylaw, and under the state statute that governs our practice.” Board member Paul Alpert said he believed the board has the authority to decide whether the application meets the purposes of the defined zoning area, which in this case means creating opportunities for housing primarily serving individuals 55 years old, or older including those who wish to live in independent apartments. The attorney for the developer, Evans Huber, said the inclusion of affordable units would make the project economically unsustainable, and might force the developer to withdraw the application. “Things have changed considerably in the two to three years since that project was permitted. Construction costs have gone up, interest rates have gone up, [there are] a variety of reasons why a project like this, which becomes very expensive, at a point it becomes no longer financially viable. So, whether people choose to believe it or not, if the board were to say ‘Nine’s not enough. You got to have 25 and five affordable units or six affordable units.’ the result would be that the building just continues to sit empty.” The board will continue the hearing on February 7th 2023.