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Thursday, June 9, 2016

Thoughts on the Mall Project and Affordable Housing



As most of you know, any new housing development in Burlington is required to include 15 % affordable units (more for on the waterfront). If a developer asks for a height increase or some other variance, we can ask him for more affordable units in exchange. Sometimes, however, as in the infamous Westlake development, a developer gets increases but avoids providing affordable units by simply paying a fee. Other times a developer builds the affordable housing off site, somewhere less desirable, which is also a problem in terms of the fair housing concept, which expects an integration of housing and income types.

In the case of the proposed mall project, Don Sinex is proposing to build the bare minimum of affordable units for a building of only 65 feet. Under our normal requirements we could ask him to build much more than 15% for going up to 105 feet. But the city is fixing to give him 160 feet without even asking him for more than the minimum for a 65 foot building. And all along crowing that they are going to improve affordable housing in the city. This is obviously a really bad deal and a terrible precedent.

On another affordable housing note, we have heard that the Burlington College development may also include some irregular affordable housing deals. It seems that instead of providing a percentage of affordable housing as part of his project, Eric Farrell has sold s piece of his property to Champlain Housing Trust so they can build the affordable housing required by this project. Is this really an appropriate way for a developer to fulfill his affordable housing percentages? He probably gave Champlain Housing Trust a good deal, but he is not taking financial responsibility for building the units as part of his own project.

3 comments:

  1. After my second planning commission meeting i was left with the sneaking suspicion that NY developer Sinex expects to win either with the wedding cake development or the denser squat box model. For Sinex/Weinberger, all of this is about investment and not development. I think if we only argue opposition to gentrification along lines of dimensions and setbacks then we'll be on weaker ground. Just throwing this out for consideration

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  3. HI Albert.. The either/or between the wedding cake vs. the squat model is, it seems to me, a sort of diversionary scare tactic, when the planning commission and city council have the right to demand a tapered building within the 65 ft/105 with benefits model. There is no reason why it has to be either/or. We can still open the streets with 4 or 6 stories and still have set or step backs with 4 or 6 stories. The real question is whether we can get more affordable housing if we give him or any developer any more height. If not, then why would we give it? I don't know if you were around to hear the interesting discussion between Lee Buffinton and the mayor about affordable housing and the 'by right' clause in the zoning. I agree that we need to oppose gentrification in a broad and general way...and that discussions about details in the height may make it seem that we are okay with a smaller building even if it is luxury condos, which we are not. we have to go at this from all angles though, and in the planning commission meetings we are talking about the wisdom or madness of this particular zoning change. Which includes a discussion of the affordability question. Majorly. More in person!! -G.

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