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By Erin Post
Revised plans for an affordable housing complex in Warren garnered praise from town officials last week after the applicants returned to the board following an extended delay.
At a public hearing March 21, the Warren Development Review Board (DRB) granted preliminary approval for the 18-unit complex, to be located on the site of the former Blue Tooth Restaurant on the Sugarbush Access Road.
The proposed development, named Wheeler Brook, comes to the board again on April 4 for further review of specific components of the application in preparation for final plan approval.
DRB members expressed enthusiasm for the complex, proposed by the Central Vermont Community Land Trust (CVCLT) and Housing Vermont.
"It's a nicely designed and much-needed project," said DRB alternate member Jeff Schoellkopf before the board granted preliminary plan approval to the new layout.
"The delay in this one was a little unnerving," added DRB chair Peter Monte. "I'm glad to see it's going forward."
The applicants last came to the board in August of 2006 with a project that included an additional two buildings and nine bedrooms on the roughly nine-acre site.
That plan has been scaled down due to cost considerations and recommendations from the state regarding stream buffers, said architect Bill Maclay March 21. The new layout eliminates two duplexes, which would have required a stream crossing to access.
The current plan calls for three buildings to be clustered around a central green space. Front entrances to the units face a winding driveway that loops around the buildings from the access road. The current Blue Tooth building is to be demolished.
A small stream crossing at the end of the drive is still planned to access the development's leach field, Maclay said, although it will likely be built to accommodate vehicles no larger than tractors.
Vegetation and plantings are included in the plan to shield the development from the access road, Maclay said.
He said the goal from the start has been to bring "more of a rural feeling than there is now" to the property as viewed from the access road.
A mix of one and two-bedroom apartments as well as one three-bedroom unit are planned for Wheeler Brook, said Kathy Beyer, development consultant for Housing Vermont, a nonprofit development company based in Burlington.
All of the apartments are to be rented out; units that were to be sold have been eliminated in the current plan.
Sixteen of the 18 units will require applicants to meet income requirements, Beyer said. A formula from the federal government ensures that rents are affordable to residents making no more than 60 percent of the median income for the county.
Preston Jump, CVCLT director, said guidelines state that a family should spend no more than 30 percent of their income on housing and housing-related costs to be considered affordable.
Based on current data for Washington County, the average rent for a one-bedroom unit would be about $540, Beyer said March 21. A two-bedroom unit would cost about $650 per month, and a three-bedroom apartment would cost about $720 per month. Tenants are slated to pay for electricity; heat would be covered by the landlord.
A covenant on the property-required to secure funding for the project from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board-stipulates that rents will be determined according to the formula in perpetuity, Beyer said, maintaining affordability.
If the development gains town approval, construction likely would not start until the fall at the earliest, Beyer said, in part because of a six-month process to secure state permits for a public water supply.
Nevertheless, housing officials expressed optimism about the project, which has been estimated to cost about $3.5 million. A recent study showed that The Valley is in dire need of affordable housing options.
Linda Lloyd, director of the Mad River Valley Planning District, urged Warren officials to approve plans for Wheeler Brook.
"We need it sorely," she said. "It's a very good-looking, quality project."