Housing at Hildreth gets a reality check

Two firms that have reviewed plans for senior housing on land between the fire station and Hildreth House have reached the same two conclusions: that the site is not appropriate for the individual housing units in the committee’s current plan, and that a single building would be a better option, although still an expensive one.

Both companies were responding to a request for information (RFI) issued this spring by the Housing at Hildreth Committee to better understand the market for a 17-unit senior housing project it has been considering for that site. The two respondents were Diamond Sinacori/Tise Design Associates and Now Communities/Civico Development. Merrill Diamond, a founding partner of Diamond Sinacori and Steve Tise, president of Tise Design Associates, met with the Housing at Hildreth Committee June 10 to explain their response and answer the committee’s questions. Now Communities/Civico will meet with the committee July 11.

In its written response, Diamond/Tise wrote that the site “could not be more difficult to develop for low-density senior housing.” It went on to say that townhouse-style units are more appropriate for higher density family housing, and while those types of units may appeal to younger seniors, they do not provide a “flexible, all weather, senior community.” In addition, a single building would be less expensive to build, mainly because of lower site costs, and would maintain the wooded character of the site, while the “bungalow style” housing project “virtually strips and flattens the site while providing a housing type with limited value.”

Diamond/Tise also cited the lack of common areas in the existing bungalow-style plan as a problem. The committee had assumed that socializing would take place at Hildreth House, but in their response Diamond/Tise said the model would not work well in bad weather or for residents with mobility issues, which could leave residents isolated in their units. In addition, the response mentioned that Hildreth House could be seen by other seniors as having been “taken over” by Housing at Hildreth residents.

A major point made by Diamond/Tise is that the committee should first identify which segment of the senior population it is aiming to serve. The bungalow plan would work well for younger, active seniors, but those seniors would likely need to move out as their mobility decreased and need for services increased. The written response also criticized the senior housing portion of the town’s Housing Production Plan, last updated in 2017, for lumping all residents 65 and over into the same category, a practice that no longer makes sense as seniors are living and staying active longer.

A ‘lodge’ with parking

The 17-unit single building proposed by Diamond/Tise, which it calls a “lodge,” would be built just to the west of Hildreth House using the existing topography. The building would be two-and-a-half stories high with a lower-level parking garage, elevators, and common areas, and it would be fully sprinklered. It would also be more energy efficient than single units.

Diamond/Tise estimated the development cost of the bungalow-style project at $6,730,400, and the single-building project at $5,660,100. The main difference in the cost of the two projects would be sitework, much higher for the bungalows because of the need to level a larger area and cut utilities into an area dominated by ledge.

Unit prices would still be higher than the committee had hoped for. Diamond/Tise provided “very preliminary” estimates of $575,000 for a 2.5-bedroom unit and $450,000 for a 1.5-bedroom unit. But those prices assume the town would donate the land, currently assessed at $1.2 million. The Housing at Hildreth plan was to sell the town land to the housing developer and use the proceeds for the proposed Phase 2 Hildreth House renovation and addition project. If a developer had to pay for the land, Diamond/Tise’s estimated unit prices would increase to $645,000 for the larger unit and $520,500 for the smaller one.

The second respondent, Now Communities, stated that even with a single building, it was not able to put together a development plan that would both meet the needs of the town and those of its investors. Instead, it recommended including affordable housing in the project and seeking local, state, or federal funding to help make the project economically viable. At their meeting with the committee, however, both Diamond and Tise said they did not believe affordable housing was a viable option for this project. Zoning an obstacle The site is currently zoned for single-family units, not a multi-family building, and any change in zoning would have to first be approved by the Planning Board. The town has also not yet approved selling the land the housing would be built on. As for Housing at Hildreth, the committee is waiting on the results of the fire station study in case the recommendation of the architect is to move the fire station elsewhere, which could add land to the site and change the scope of the housing project.

In the meantime, Housing at Hildreth member Lucy Wallace suggested the group talk to residents of Foxglove and Bowers Brook, both single-building senior residences, to get a better understanding of how seniors feel about that type of housing. Chair Rick Maiore agreed, saying “We’ve been looking at it through our own eyes.”

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