Zemo looks to take advantage of affordable housing incentive

Developer Steve Zemo may soon take advantage of a new zoning regulation that incentivizes building affordable housing units in the town’s three business zones. The regulation — passed by the Planning and Zoning Commission Jan. 2 — allows developers to build at a density of 16 units per acre, which enables affordable housing units to be rented at a slightly higher rate than allowed by comparable state regulations.

Zemo, a member of the Board of Selectmen, is seeking to alter plans for his Old Quarry Commons project located at 35 Old Quarry Road. If the zoning commission approves the revised plans, the building would have two floors of eight two-bedroom housing units — 16 total, five of which would be designated affordable under the town’s newly passed “mixed-use overlay zone.”

The first floor of the building would have eight storage units that would bring the proposal in compliance with one of the overlay zone’s conditions — first floors devoted to commercial purposes, with the upper floors devoted to housing.

The commission has scheduled a public hearing for Zemo’s proposal Tuesday, Feb. 6.

The carrot

The commission voted to approve the affordable housing overlay zone at its Tuesday, Jan. 2, meeting.

The zone is intended to draw developers away from the state’s 8-30g regulation, which allows developers to circumvent local zoning restrictions on height, density, and lot coverage, by offering up what commission Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti called the “carrot and stick approach.”

The “carrot” in this case is allowing developers to build housing projects in the B1, B2, and B3 business districts at a density of 16 units per acre, while setting aside 30% of the housing units as affordable units. The town regulations differ from state law, however, in that all the units designated as affordable housing may be rented at 80% of the state median income level.

Under 8-30g, half of the 30% of units set aside may be rented at 80% of the state median income level (the state mandates that rent and basic utilities can’t take up more than 30% of the renter’s income), while the remaining 15% of affordable units have to be rented at 60% of the state median income.

Notably, Zemo spoke at several of the hearings in favor of the incentive including only a provision for 80% housing.

“These are people building without grants, without tax credits … all of that builds 60% housing,” said Zemo, at the commission’s Nov. 21 hearing.

“If you water down the incentives …”

“They’ll say, ‘Thank you very much, we’ll see you with an 8-30g,’” Mucchetti finished for him.

The commission voted to include only 80% housing in the overlay zone at its Dec. 19 meeting.