By Beth David, Editor
At its meeting on January 9, the Fairhaven Selectboard heard from Richard Hayden of the Stratford Capital Group (SCG) about its request for $325,000 in Community Preservation funds for its proposed housing development at the former Oxford School site.
Selectboard members had previously expressed dismay at the request, saying they had no idea the project developers would be asking for CPC funds. The $325,000 is the same amount the company has offered to pay for the building.
At the meeting, Mr. Hayden told the board that the community match shows the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) that there is community support for the project, which will rely heavily on grants and tax credits from both state and federal sources.
He told the board that the $325,000 would be the maximum amount he would ask for.
“This is the one and only request,” he said.
Then he acknowledged that the town might not be able to grant the whole amount in one year, and that SCG would be able to take the money over two or three consecutive years.
When it became clear that the Community Preservation Committee was not allowed to allocate future funds, Mr. Hayden had to amend his promise to say that the $325,000 would be the maximum amount the company would request, but that they would, indeed, make multiple requests to receive that amount if necessary.
The town generally has about $400,000 in CPC funds each year, including the state’s match. Ten percent of that money must be set aside for each of three categories (historic preservation, open space & recreation, and affordable housing). This means that the town simply does not have $325,000 to give to one project in one year, even if inclined to do so. Town Meeting must approve CPC requests.
As for the amount being the same as the purchase prices, Mr. Hayden said that the figure was arrived at by figuring out available funding sources, the cost of the project, and figuring out what they were left with.
“It’s a total coincidence,” he said Mr. Hayden.
He said the money is not “earmarked for a specific use,” but if the town insisted on the money being specified for, say, construction costs, he could do that.
Mr. Hayden said that not mentioning the possibility of applying for CPC funds during all the negotiations on the sale of the building was an “oversight.”
“We regret that now,” he said. “We won’t do it again.”
“I was deeply disappointed. We didn’t know anything about this,” said Selectboard member Bob Espindola, who was involved in the negotiations from the start.
“I understand,” said Mr. Hayden.
Mr. Espindola asked Mr. Hayden to spell out the “gap” that the money is supposed to fill.
Mr. Hayden said they have “maxed out” all the funding sources and still fall short. DHCD also has become stricter on requiring the local match.
In its materials on applying for low income housing funds, the DHCD states that it requires a match of local funds from communities that have Community Preservation funds or other funds, such as the HOME Program.
Economic Development Director Bill Roth explained that Fairhaven is not eligible to be part of the HOME program. Mr. Hayden verified that his company had originally planned to seek those funds, not realizing that Fairhaven does not participate in the program.
Reiterating that he was always for the project, Selectboard member Daniel Freitas said he wanted to make sure that SCG was not going to be asking for additional funds “down the road.”
He said they sold the building so it would not cost the town money, not so the town would then pay back the purchase price.
“We sold the building to you,” said Mr. Freitas. “It doesn’t look good.”
Resident Margaret Gray spoke against using the CPC funds for the project. She said there was no promise that the housing would be for Fairhaven residents, that there was not a need for more senior housing in Fairhaven and that $325,000 is “nothing for a project this size,” although it is significant for the town.
“If we’re [going to] spend this money, it should be for the town,” said Ms. Gray.
Selectboard Chairperson Charles Murphy made Mr. Hayden spell out exactly what he meant by no more requests.
“This surprised all of us, so,” said Mr. Murphy, the town needs to know if next year they will be coming back for more.
Mr. Hayden insisted that the $325,000 figure would be the maximum, but they will make multiple requests to reach that number if necessary.
The Community Preservation Committee will vote on the allocation of the funds. The Selectboard will also make a recommendation to Town Meeting. Ultimately, Town Meeting members will make the final decision.
In another matter, the board set in writing some rules and regulations for use of the town hall auditorium for private events.
The new policy sets rates and requirements, such as proof of insurance and the amount and kinds of insurance necessary for certain kinds of events.
In other business, the board approved a draft of a letter to be sent by Town Administrator Mark Rees to Sears Holding Corporation in response to the news that the Fairhaven Kmart will close this year.
The letter asks for an opportunity to meet with company representatives to “discuss ways we could work with you to keep Kmart in Fairhaven.”
The letter cites the improving economy in the region, excellent location of the store near highways and high traffic routes, and the availability of state and local grants and tax incentives that could make the location more economically viable.
“Kmart is an integral and vital member of the Fairhaven business community and we want to do whatever we can to keep your presence in Fairhaven,” reads the letter. “Please give us the opportunity to convince you that staying in Fairhaven is the right thing to do for your company.”
The store is slated to close at the end of March and has already held a liquidation sale.
The board also announced a vacancy on the Zoning Board of Appeals, created when Keith Silvia resigned so he could be appointed to replace Kathy Sturtevant on the Board of Public Works.
Residents interested in the ZBA appointment should send letters of interest to Anne O’Brien at the Selectboard office, aobrien@ fairhaven-ma.gov by 4 p.m. on January 30.
Nick Sylvia appeared in front of the board asking to be appointed to the Conservation Commission. Mr. Sylvia had sent a letter of interest several weeks ago.
He said he wanted to contribute to the community and the ConCom seemed like a “fun way to solve problems.
He was appointed unanimously to the ConCom.
The board approved April 30 for the sixth annual West Island 5K.
In a letter to the board, Race Director Lyle Drew said that in the last five years the race has raised $57,000 for the Fairhaven High School Cross Country program, Crispin Demers Memorial Scholarship, and Strive and Achieve Corporation.
In 2015, the race awarded six graduating seniors with $500 scholarships, $1,000 to the West Island Improvement Association scholarship fund, and $1,300 to the Hastings Middle School Field Day.
“Our ability to provide this funding was due to the generous support of local businesses, private donations, and our race participants,” wrote Mr. Drew.
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