Concord selectmen denied a fervent request that the board send a letter to the state showing its support for the Christopher Heights at Junction Village affordable housing development at its meeting this week, after receiving a fiery letter of termination from Grantham Group, LLC managing director, Walter O’Hanian.
The confrontation marked the end of the line for the 83-unit all-affordable housing project after a decade of work by various housing groups in town.
“With deep regret,” O’Hanian wrote, “The Grantham Group have decided to terminate the project and withdraw all our pending applications for it,” said O’Hanian.
The 12.5 parcel is owned by the Concord Housing Development Corporation. The project budget swelled from $20M to $28M due to the pandemic, according to Liz Rust, director of the nine-town Regional Housing Services Office.
But the termination was more than cost. “Beyond economic, financial and market conditions changing recently in dramatic and negative ways, it’s clear to us that we face hostility and outright opposition to the project from a majority of the current Concord Select Board, making the project untenable,” wrote O’Hanian.
The abrupt termination letter sent a shock wave through the local housing community with residents speaking of the need for more affordable housing both to support low income seniors and to fend off developers’ plans to get around the 40B restrictions on large density residential development. If Concord cannot show that 10 percent of its housing stock is subsidized, developers can have free rein to get around density restrictions and other limits on development.
Before the termination letter dropped, the Concord Municipal Affordable Housing Trust voted to commit $1M from its coffers to the CHDC to keep the project afloat.
Municipal Trust Chairman Keith Bergman wrote to the Select Board that “the Trust’s balance of $1,080,000 is the only source of local funding available in time” to meet the Oct. 27 deadline for application to the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development for various permits.
Bergman noted that the municipal trust infusion would not impact taxpayers or the town’s operating budget. The Community Preservation Committee voted to contribute as well.
Mike Lawson of the CMAHT said with 37 percent of Concord residents over age 65, “there is a clear need for more affordable housing.”
Lawson said the Planning Board voted unanimously to support the Grantham plan.
Peggy Briggs, chair of the Finance Committee, said it could not support going forward with Grantham.
“The recommendation of the Fincom is that no more funds should be provided to the developer,” said Briggs. She added that the town could “easily attract another developer” for the parcel off Winthrop Street.
Select Board member Henry Dane “speculated” that economic factors were not the only consideration for Grantham to walk away.
“They are looking for a pretext to withdraw,” he said.
Select Board member Mary Hartman said, “It’s a bad project,” citing her “feeling of distrust for this project,” and “lack of transparency.”
Lee Smith, chairman of the Concord Housing Development Corporation, called the denial of a letter of support for Grantham “a huge missed opportunity.”
One final chance to save the project came from Select board member Linda Escobedo, who moved that the board weigh in on its decision to forego the project. Her motion failed to receive a second.