Second developer confirms difficulties of building senior housing

A second development firm, Now Communities, met with the Housing at Hildreth Committee Monday, July 1, to discuss the group’s plans for a senior housing development on the town-owned land between the fire station and Hildreth House, and the firm’s conclusion had a familiar ring: The complexities of the site make the project financially impractical.

The committee put out a request for information in the spring, and two firms responded: Diamond Sinacore/Tise Design Associates and Now Communities/Civico Development. Diamond/Tise representatives met with the committee June 10 and said the site was not appropriate for individual or duplex housing. Instead, they suggested a single two-and-a-half story “lodge” with common areas, elevators, and a parking garage.

At the Monday meeting, which lacked a quorum, Now Communities president Dan Gainsboro told the three committee members present that the topography of the site and the known ledge make it unsuitable for individual houses. Instead, his firm considered the feasibility of building two wings of 10 units each. Each wing would use the existing topography to support five units built on the high side of the hill, and five on the low side. The housing would range from 1,500-square-foot one-bedroom units to 2,000-square-foot two-bedroom units.

In addition to lower site costs, Gainsboro said his firm’s approach had the advantage of leaving a large portion of the site untouched so residents could enjoy the outdoor space there. He added that, with individual houses, each house would occupy its own piece of the land, but “the larger asset would be lost.” Diamond/Tise cited that same advantage in its proposal for a lodge-style single structure.

But even with the lowered costs, Gainsboro said the project would not be profitable enough to attract investors. Even if the town donated the land and units were priced at market rate, Gainsboro said it wouldn’t be enough. He suggested looking into programs offered by the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development as well as other funding sources. Loosening the age restriction and allowing some units to be priced higher was another option he mentioned.

“We’re disappointed,” Gainsboro said, adding that Harvard is not alone. Acton is trying to solve a similar situation, he said, and suggested it might be worthwhile for members to speak with Acton’s planner. The committee adjourned without discussing next steps.

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