By Beth David
The Fairhaven Selectboard held a special meeting on Tuesday, 6/21, for the sole purpose of discussing the proposal by Stratford Capital Group to transform the Oxford School building into 63 apartments for people 62 and older.
A special town meeting (STM) is scheduled for 6/30 at Hastings Middle School to decide the fate of the building in Benoit Square in North Fairhaven.
About 40 people attended the meeting in the town hall auditorium, most of them to voice concerns about the plan.
Selectboard member Bob Espindola said he believed the concerns of the neighbors had been addressed “to the extend that we could do that,” in negotiations with SCG. The article for the STM has 12 bullet points that include the major provisions of the purchase and sale agreement the town has drafted with SCG. The P&S is 26 pages long.
Board members and SCG representatives said the project would be taxed at a regular rate, bringing in $17,000 to $20,000 per year depend-ing on the assessor’s office’s assessment of the completed project.
Nils Isaksen asked if apartments on the back side of the building could have balconies to overlook the park.
Michael Gardenier of ICON Architecture said the building will be a “green building,” using as many energy efficient aspects as possible, and will also be built with input from the National Park Service (NPS) because the Oxford School is an historic building. He said balconies would probably not be allowed, but that the windows on that side are large to maximize light.
Many questions were very specific about the building and construction.
John Medeiros of the North Fairhaven Improvement Association, which leases a building from the town on the property that will be carved out from the sale, said he had concerns with the density. He said the square footage of the proposed building compared to the Fairhaven Housing Authority properties makes it much denser. He said the property should have not more than 32 units.
He also took issue with the basement apartments, saying they had no windows.
“We should not put seniors in the cellar of the Oxford School,” said Mr. Medeiros. “They do not belong there.”
Richard Hayden of SCG said they were “very comfortable” with the size and scale of the project. He noted that the company has done many other projects.
In response to other questions and concerns, SCG representatives and town officials said that the project will include a common space inside the building for residents to socialize with each other.
The project calls for 75 parking spaces, five spots fewer than would be required under regular bylaws. SCG representatives said they use a specified formula and believe that 75 spaces will be enough for a 62+ population, despite arguments to the contrary from residents.
The project will also create 30 parking spots for public use along the property line in Livesey Park, and the NFIA building will have four spots.
Selectboard member Daniel Freitas spoke forcefully in favor of the project saying it was the best option. He reminded residents that only one other party was interested in the building, offered only $25,000, compared to the $325,000 that SCG is offering, and that the other party could turn around and sell the building in a few years to anyone.
If an affordable housing project were proposed for the site under Chapter 40B, the town would have no say in how it was constructed.
This project was described as a “friendly 40B,” with the developer making many concessions and accommodations in response to town concerns.
After being questioned in greet detail on many of the features of the building and the units themselves, Mr. Gardenier went beyond the specifications for just a moment.
“I love doing this,” said Mr. Gardenier. “I love it when people come in and say ‘this is my fifth grade classroom and I get to live here now.’”
He said the NPS will has many specifications on how the building may be restored and which materials can be used, including colors.
Selectboard Chairperson Charles Murphy, who has voted against the project, said that North Fairhaven is already too congested, and the project will add to that congestion.
“We have a lot of housing in North Fairhaven,” said Mr. Murphy. “And this structure is big.”
He said the construction process will be a “nightmare.”
He said town meeting members should vote for against the project based on how they feel it will affect the whole town, not just North Fairhaven and not just because it will not affect their own neighborhoods.
SCG will apply for funding that could take up to two years. They will pay the town $5,000 per year for maintenance to the building while they await funding.
“The town should know,” said Mr. Hayden. “That this has been the most rigorous review process of any board of Selectmen I’ve ever been involved with. It’s been a lengthy process. So you should know.”
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