BUSINESS QUARTERLY: Developers work to increase housing stock

By ASHLEY SAARI

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 04-27-2023 11:02 AM

From its exterior, the former Catholic church on Maple Street in Wilton looks much the same as when it was built.

On the inside, however, many of the accouterments have been stripped, readying the space for its next life as an apartment building.

Owner David Fait has worked on several other development projects in Milford and Nashua, but said he has always wanted to tackle the conversion of an old church or school – in part, he said, because of the quality of construction.

The church is intended to become four apartments. The former rectory building next door has already been converted to two apartments, which have been rented, while construction on the church apartments is yet to start. After delays caused the zoning permissions to convert the church to apartments to lapse, Fait had to reapply to the town’s Zoning Board, and after regaining the needed permits, he has only just completed the conditions for full approval.

Now, he’s eager to get started.

“We see the need,” Fait said. “People are looking for housing, and there’s nothing. No vacancies.”

Housing availability has been a longstanding issue in the state, a problem which has not improved in the past decade.

In the Southwest region, which covers the eastern portion of the Monadnock region, there were a total of 46,161 housing units recorded in 2020. While this is an increase of about 876 units since 2010, vacancy rates didn’t improve. The number of vacant housing units decreased by about 1.4 percent in the last 10 years.

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JAFFREY

Another property owned by the Catholic Diocese is also planned to be turned into housing – the former St. Patrick’s School in Jaffrey.

MJ & MJ Realty Ventures of Jaffrey, owned by Mike Shea, Jack Belletete, John Peard and Matt Peard, plans to tear down the building and build a combination of rental apartments and condominiums.

The company just completed the purchase of the property, and although Shea appeared before the Planning Board to discuss the project in a preliminary capacity, no design decisions have been made. Based on the amount of acreage – 13 acres in all – and taking into account additional density allowed by the use of units priced as workforce housing, Shea told the board the property could support up to 69 units, including two 24-unit apartment buildings.

The apartments would require a variance, as the area only allows up to eight units per building.

“It’s been for sale for a long time,” said John Peard. “We know that’s a need for housing.”

The members of the investment group are all from Jaffrey, and three of them graduated from St. Patrick’s School. Having seen the building deteriorate since its closure in 2015, and with all four having looked at the property in the past, they decided last year to band together and pool resources to get a project done.

John Peard said there may be people disappointed that the plan calls for the destruction of the school, instead of repurposing the building.

“We know there may be some hurt feelings over that,” he said. “But it just doesn’t make financial sense.”

Shea explained that particularly over the last three years, the building has accumulated water and freezing damage, along with being subject to vandalism, on top of already-known factors such as lead and asbestos abatement which would have to be done.

“We want folks to be able to afford to reside in the town they work in,” John Peard said, noting that one of the appeals of the property was being within walking distance of the downtown and elementary school. “The intent is for these to be affordable.”

Shea said that engineering work will soon be underway to determine a plan for the property, and an application could be submitted to the town this summer.

In addition to the St. Patrick’s School project, the town will also be considering a proposal for 13 units on Squantum Road. The proposal is on a former brownfield site, meaning it had potential contaminants from prior uses that had to be mitigated. It is also located in the General Residence A district, which doesn’t allow the density of units proposed, meaning it requires a variance.

According to Planning and Economic Development Director Jo Anne Carr, the applicants have submitted an application to both the planning and zoning boards.

GREENVILLE

The first of three phases of development for a 55-unit open space residential development off of Pleasant Street, known as Barton’s Ridge, is underway, with some homes completed. The development is on a 55-acre property.

On Dunster Avenue, developer Dan Hynes has proposed to put up to 10 apartments into the former Antiques Mall, with commercial uses in the basement. The application is currently stalled while Hynes decides a path forward, due to a conflict over the rules of the commercial zone where the property is located.

The rules of the commercial zone allow residences on the second floor of a building above a commercial area, and Hynes is arguing that the basement should count as the first floor, since it is accessible from the back on the building, meaning the residences on the above floor would be allowed. However, the Planning Board has maintained that the first floor accessible from the street is the first floor, meaning residences would not be allowed on that floor.

PETERBOROUGH

There are a number of housing projects being discussed in Peterborough, but some are still in their early stages. 

Catholic Charities has received a variance for a 93-unit mixed-income development at 10 and 12 Vose Farm Road, but still needs Planning Board approval.

There is a preliminary review hearing on May 8 for a 100-unit workforce housing development proposed on Mercer Avenue. A 67-unit 55-and-older development for the Stone Barn on Old Street Road, which has received a special density exemption for 55-plus housing, still needs site review.

Thirty units at 241 Union St. and 19 at Walden Eco Village have been approved, but have conditions of approval to meet. 

Some projects are farther down the road.

The old Woodman’s Florist lot on Route 202 is under construction for 16 single-family homes. Sadie Halliday’s Southfield Village 38-unit project is underway. Some of the homes in Cranberry Meadow Estates on Carley Road have been built or are being built.

RINDGE

In Rindge, the recently completed 13-unit development on Route 119, known as Kathleen’s Place, is complete and has tenants. The project was approved in 2021 as a mixed-use multifamily development. The development includes three buildings, one with six condominiums, one with four and one with three. The development also includes office space and warehouses on the lower levels of the condominiums.

From Route 119, the development doesn’t look as though its mixed-use, noted Rindge Planning Director Kirk Stenersen, because the businesses are located on a basement level, only seen and accessed from the back side of the property.

Though approved before the Kathleen’s Place development, another multifamily development on Route 119 has yet to get off the ground. In January 2021, the Planning Board approved a major site plan and major subdivision for a lot on Route 119 for a plan for 59 units under the town’s Planned Unit Residential Development, or PURD, regulations.

The plan calls for 23 single-family home lots, four buildings with six units each and four buildings with three units each, including eight workforce housing units.

While the plan has been approved, the developers, Navian Development, are still working to complete conditions of approval, which require certain permits from the state Department of Environmental Services and Department of Transportation, before construction can begin.

A project which has broken ground is a proposal for eight condominium units and a commercial office building on the corner of Route 202 and Thomas Road.

The proposal, put forth by Traven Development and approved by the Planning Board at the end of 2022, includes a single building with three commercial units, and eight three-bedroom condominiums.

To see the status of housing projects in the region, click here.

Rowan Wilson contributed to this story. Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172, Ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.

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