Planning Board Taking Precautions for Affordable Housing

By Seth Daniel

On Monday night, the Everett Planning Board reviewed the first-ever housing proposal that is required to include affordable housing, and the board voted unanimously to bring in an attorney to help get the process correct.

George Varoudakis, of Danvers and as DAG Realty Trust, has proposed to put in 14 residential units in an industrial property on Bow Street that currently houses the Down the Road brewery, a commercial kitchen, a gun shooting-range and other types of uses. It is one of the first, large residential-uses to be carved out of the huge industrial area on Lower Broadway that is slated to be changed forever as the Wynn Boston Harbor casino nears opening in 2019.

While the proposal was significant for the fact that a residential use was premiering in an historically industrial area, it was most noteworthy in that it was the first project proposed that is required to include affordable housing.

That effort, called inclusionary zoning, passed the Planning Board and City Council earlier this year. In the case of the first application, the 14-unit project would be required to have two units of permanently affordable housing.

In the midst of the overall discussion on Monday night, Planner Michael Vivaldi recommended that an attorney be brought on board to make sure the affordable housing requirements were done right.

All costs up to $5,000 for that attorney, he said, would be paid for by the applicants.

“This is very, very new to Everett, having inclusionary zoning and affordable units required in a project,” he said. “I recommend to the Planning Board to seek legal counsel…for outside consultation. I feel this is important enough to Everett that the Planning Board should have outside counsel to ensure the components of the inclusionary zoning piece are handled correctly. I feel it’s important to have legal counsel at the meetings, so everything is understood thoroughly and nothing gets misunderstood.”

The Planning Board agreed unanimously to the recommendation, and it was recommended that KP Law – which helped the city craft the inclusionary zoning ordinance – be used on the project at not more than $5,000 in fees to be charged to the applicant.

Varoudakis agreed, though had very little choice in the matter, through his attorney, John Kennedy of Everett.

The project, with architect John Crowell of Deer Hill, does have a long way to go to get approvals of the Board, though, as turning a long-time blighted industrial property into a residential development is no easy task.

The idea is to build out two floors of residential units totaling 14 units, with #10 and #13 being the affordable units.

Member Leo Pizzano questioned the applicant thoroughly about details like improved drainage, new sidewalks on long-neglected Ashland Street and the parking lot configuration as it pertains to residential uses abutting heavy industry that requires large truck deliveries.

“It works down there now because of where you are,” he said. “It works. Everyone’s happy. Now you’re putting in residential, and it will have a whole new level of concerns…I believe you’ll be catering to shift workers. What if a worker comes in after working all night and wants to sleep all day. He may not want to listen to the pallet company building pallets all day or the brewery operating its machinery. As soon as you inject residential, the right to quiet and peace in a place is going to make it tough down there.”

Member Nancy Koury agreed, and said it’s likely that large truck-deliveries should be limited or it should be reserved for smaller trucks only.

“You’ve got people living there, and you’ll have a truck backing up through the property all the way across with backup beacons going off,” she said. “I don’t see how anything of that scale is really workable.”

The frustration mounted as the proposal is tied unofficially to a complicated proposal from the brewery to get their new taproom and expanded production space up and running – something that has been delayed due to a city and owner permitting oversight.

After the meeting, Varoudakis seemed reluctant to move forward with the project, saying the infrastructure costs thrust upon him to re-do the sewer, sidewalks and parking lot were too much. He made several pronouncements about withdrawing, but nothing official out of those declarations yet.

Varoudakis is expected to return to the Planning Board after meeting with a Civil Engineer about the infrastructure work on Sept. 11.

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