Carriage House Junction Developer Proposes Payments Instead of New Affordable Units

The developer of Carriage House Junction in Hamilton is asking the town whether it will accept payments instead of the construction of the final two affordable units at the condominium development.

The developer of the Carriage House Junction condominiums is asking town officials how much it would cost to make a payment to the town in lieu of building the final two so-called affordable units.

The request first came to the Hamilton Zoning Board of Appeals last week. The Planning Board, at , has an agenda item set aside for a discussion of “inclusionary zoning” – zoning law that regulates affordable housing - and the board’s rules and regulations about it. The inclusionary zoning ordinance, passed at Town Meeting in 2005, includes a fee in-lieu-of-units schedule.

The Carriage House Junction development was permitted in 2006 and built in 2007. It is located on three acres at the corner of Essex and Sagamore streets in Hamilton, near the Essex town line. Before becoming condominiums, it was home to an ice cream stand.

The development was permitted under the state’s affordable housing law, Chapter 40B, which required six of the units to be “affordable,” or below market rate.

Bill Bowler, chairman of the Zoning Board, said last week that no formal application has been submitted and the ZBA does not plan to make any immediate decision.

Frank Caruso, the developer who brought the request to the ZBA, said he bought the final 10 units at Carriage House Junction to avoid bank foreclosure. Caruso said he is renting those units “only because I can’t sell them.”

Three market rate units have been sold and four affordable – or below market rate units – have been sold.

The affordable units sold for $180,000 for income eligible buyers with maximum annual family income of $46,300 for a single person to $76,750 for a family of six.

The units each have about 2,000 square feet of living space, three bedrooms, 2-1/2 bathrooms and a garage. Sales of market rate units have ranged from $509,000 to $595,000. Some market rate units also have a detached garage.

One unit that is on the market now is listed for $529,000 with $376 monthly condo fees and annual taxes of $8,920.

The development was originally planned to be 22 units and 17 have been built.

“It’s been tough, it’s been a little bit of a struggle,” Caruso said, later adding that he would not have brought the request to the Zoning Board if the real estate market had not dipped in recent years.

The final five units would all go in one building closest to Essex Street, and the foundation is already in the ground. Two of those five units, under the original permit issued by the Hamilton Zoning Board of Appeals, would be affordable. Caruso asked how much the town would want to be paid so that he could sell all five units in the final building at market rate.

Caruso said it costs him about $225,000 to build each unit, plus the foundation for the five-unit building cost $100,000.

Bowler said he has checked to find out whether the ZBA can reverse or alter a decision regarding affordable housing.

“Something like this may have to take place at the state level,” Bowler said.

Planning Board member Rick Mitchell, who was looking on from the audience during Caruso’s presentation, suggested that Caruso’s attorney check on how other communities have handled similar situations.

“That may get the conversation going,” Mitchell said.

Bowler suggested that Caruso’s attorney sit down with a representative of the ZBA and Board of Selectmen to consider the options.

“We’re only going to be inclined to help you out if we can help the town out,” Bowler said.

Bowler noted the “long, arduous” approval process for the condo development.

“These come with expectations,” Bowler said. “I know things have changed.”

John Rodenhizer, a Zoning Board member, asked Caruso whether he has approached any local non-profit organization that may be interested in becoming partners to help build the affordable units.

“The one thing that this town lacks, in my opinion, is affordable housing,” he said, adding it would be a shame to lose two new affordable units. Rodenhizer, with his company JSR Adaptive Energy Solutions, volunteers on Habitat for Humanity projects, including the recent “Builders Blitz” in the Merrimack Valley.

Fred Mills, a local real estate agent who is a member of the Hamilton Affordable Housing Trust, said the group could meet and hear Caruso’s proposal.

“As a group we would sit, listen and talk,” he said, adding that as a group whose mission it is to create affordable housing, it would have a hard time giving up affordable units in Hamilton.


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