Planning Board: Be proactive on affordable housing

Apr 11, 2018

Members of Rochester's Planning Board touted the benefits of staying proactive in regards to affordable housing during their April 10 meeting.

The question of adding affordable-income housing to Rochester cropped up during Rochester's recent Candidates Night, receiving some attention.

During the Planning Board meeting, board members did a bit of brainstorming, offering ideas, but made it clear that nothing they said was any kind of formal plan for actually installing affordable housing in town. It was, rather, a way to stay ahead.

"It's a good idea to be proactive, before somebody comes in here and buys a lot of land, and then proposes 90 units on it," said Planning Board member Chris Silveira. "We can say we have affordable housing already."

Currently, according to board members, less than one percent of Rochester residences fall under the umbrella of affordable housing.

The board focused mainly on developing affordable housing for seniors, as it meets a town need, they said. But, they said, they weren't sure if affordable housing for seniors would count overall as affordable housing.

Board members considered the possibility of keeping some of the units proposed in an over-55 development at the same meeting as affordable housing units. It's not clear if any of the units in the proposed development are classed as affordable units.

"If they could hold back two units, that would really be helpful," John DiMaggio said. "But does that count as low-income housing, if it's still in an over-55 development?"

Fellow board members weren't certain, and they agreed to consult Rochester's Town Counsel, Blair Bailey, on the issue.

"We've talked about giving amnesty to illegal apartments that we know are in town, and letting them become affordable housing," said Planning Board Chairman Arnie Johnson. "The problem is that affordable housing is done in a lottery system, so property owners don't get a choice in who is moving in."

"I'm wondering if maybe we should use a small piece that the town owns to create affordable housing ahead of any developers coming in," Johnson said.

"We can't put it in the middle of nowhere," said Town Planner Steve Starret. "People need to be able to access some kind of transportation."

"They're in Rochester," Lee Carr pointed out. "You need a car to get anywhere."

"How far do you guys drive to get groceries over here anyway?" Starret joked.

"We take a gun and go into the woods and shoot dinner," Carr told him with a laugh.

Jokes aside, Starret added that affordable housing might be useful particularly for "unique" land parcels. "There's one nine-acre property the owners are interested in selling, because of its attributes you can really only get one lot out of it. But," he said, "you could get a number of units into one building on the lot."

"It's going to take all of the town boards working together to get anything to work," Johnson said. "It won't be an easy thing."