Rochester Selectmen OK study of 208-unit housing project

Jan 15, 2019

ROCHESTER — A Dartmouth-based developer that hopes to construct a 208-unit apartment complex, was given Selectmen approval on Jan. 14 to begin the process of applying for “Chapter 40R” status at the state level — but still awaits Planning Board approval next week.

Selectmen met to discuss the proposed development which would be built at the intersection of Routes 28, 58 and 495 through the use of a “40R smart growth zoning overlay district.”

Steen Realty and Development Corp. seeks to use Chapter 40R of a state law designed to promote the construction of affordable units and town cooperation.

Unlike the more familiar Chapter 40B, the 40R overlay district approach gives voters and local officials a larger role in approval of the project.

Steen will have to take a laundry list of steps before it is able to consider construction, including the OK from the Planning Board to officially begin the application process for the district. Approving the project would also require Town Meeting to establish of a “zoning overlay district.”

The Planning Board would then have responsibility for permitting and oversight of any construction plans within that district.

The first step, according to Chair Greenwood Hartley, is for the Planning Board to vote to allow Steen to move forward with a financial impact study. The decision, Hartley stressed, would not be approval of the project — only of getting the study done.

“What it approves is that they submit an application to the state to start the 40R process,” said Town Counsel Blair Bailey. “At that point that will open up more information for the board to take into consideration.”

If the Planning Board OKs the application process to begin, then Steen Realty and Development Corp will file the application and produce a financial impact study for the town. 

Bailey said that if the application process begins, then Steen plans on building a website to provide project information to town residents and officials. 

At Monday’s meeting, Selectmen and residents asked questions about the proposed apartments.

The state requires that 10 percent of a town’s housing stock be designated as affordable, and Rochester currently has significantly less, said Bailey. If a town fails to meet the 10 percent requirement, the state could approve the project with little input from the town.

One resident asked the board if the state has the right to “force” the 40R development on the town. 

Bailey said that a 40R development is a cooperative process between an applicant and a municipality, meaning the final say will be on town meeting floor because of the zoning change.

“If town meeting were to say “no” then this would go away,” said Bailey. “It would not preclude the applicant from coming back under 40B, and under 40B we have no choice.”

Vice Chair Brad Morse said that, under 40B, the developer would not need to comply with Zoning Board suggestions or requests. 

Bailey said that there will also be Planning Board meetings about the potential zoning change, where residents could voice concerns. 

Some residents expressed concerns about the negative financial impact on the town and its school system. 

Bailey said that if the project is approved, the town would receive a one-time state payment of $1.1 million plus $3,000 for each unit approved. He added that there would be some financial help to support incoming students. 

“We get extra tax revenue from the building, but that might not cover the additional cost to the town from the students,” said Bailey. “So there’s a calculation that covers that difference.”

He suggested that the 40R process would end up being a benefit to the town. 

“We get a lot more out of it than the other way,” Bailey said. “We get a lot more money, a lot more say, and and a lot more control.”