A 128-unit senior housing project proposed for the Henry T. Wing School site gained the enthusiastic support and praise from the often-reserved finance committee this week.
“It seems to me this is the most obvious no-brainer that has ever come before the finance committee,” said committee member Bob J. Guerin. The project, he added, “hits it out of the park—open space, historic preservation and affordable housing. It’s the trifecta.”
Although committee members had questions about some of the financing details, they ultimately agreed with Mr. Guerin, voting 5-0 with one abstention, in favor of the three-phase rental project.
The vote on Tuesday, January 14, came after a presentation from town staff and Keith J. McDonald, vice president of development and acquisitions for the interested developer, Stratford Capital Group.
Town Planner Ralph A. Vitacco gave a brief summary of the plan to the finance committee members.
Stratford proposes purchasing all the buildings on the Wing school site for $1.3 million, to build a $53 million mixed-income development for people over age 62.
The developer has requested $2.6 million in community preservation funds to help defray the demolition costs to take down all the buildings on the property except the historic red brick “1927 Building” facing Route 130.
Mr. Vitacco told the finance committee that the preservation grant will demonstrate the town’s commitment to the project. The $2.6 million would not only pay for the demolition, but also help the developer qualify for state affordable housing tax credits.
If all three phases of the project are built, the development would provide 128 rental apartments for seniors. Most of the units would be for low-to-moderate income seniors and about 20 units would be rented at market rates, according to the proposal.
The town would keep the athletic fields surrounding the former school and most of the parking.
Mr. Guerin said that current and former finance committee members had asked that several criteria be met when considering what to do with the former Wing school.
Among the top priorities was that the town be spared the cost of demolishing and replacing most of the dilapidated buildings on the site, the cost of which has ranged from $4 million to $75 million.
The finance committee and selectmen have also been seeking to eliminate the annual maintenance costs for the building, estimates for which have ranged from $200,000 to $400,000 a year, Mr. Guerin said.
In addition, the finance committee has been asking the Sandwich Community Preservation Committee to find “more meaningful” ways to use community preservation funds, Mr. Guerin said.
Committee member James W. Pierce reminded his fellow committee members that some 70 percent of respondents to various town surveys wanted to tear down most of the Wing school structures except for the 1927 building.
“I am absolutely pleased and surprised we have a company with a proven record to do exactly what the town’s citizens want us to do,” Mr. Pierce said. “This does it.”
At a recent community preservation committee meeting, some members objected to using preservation funds for demolition. Finance committee chairman Mark Snyder, who attended that preservation committee meeting, brought those objections up at the Tuesday night finance committee meeting.
Other questions involved how the preservation money would be bonded, how much in annual property taxes would the final development pay the town, and how successful the project is expected to be.
The answers came from various officials.
The money would be bonded like any other project funded by the town, said Sandwich Finance Director William Jennings. The only difference is that the interest on future Community Preservation Act earnings would be used to pay off the loan. The finished project would pay the town about $128,000 a year in taxes, Mr. Vitacco said. SCG’s other affordable senior housing projects are all 100 percent occupied and have waiting lists, Mr. McDonald said.
“This was a vote to endorse the concept of this proposal and to encourage the preservation committee to support the article,” Mr. Guerin said of the nearly unanimous vote.
Preservation committee members had said they wanted to hear finance committee’s opinion of the proposal before voting on whether to commit the $2.6 million in community preservation funds.
Finance committee member Laura Wing said she abstained because she had concerns about such a large development at the downtown site.
Mr. Vitacco and assistant town manager Heather B. Harper have urged advisory board members to keep the end result in mind—and to act quickly—so the developer could begin the long process of acquiring state tax credits.
For each of three proposed phases, the developer would have to seek tax credits through the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development. The tax credits, allocated to the state by the US Internal Revenue Service, reduce the tax burden on designated properties, so the developer can offer lower, more affordable rates, according to state documents.
The town is considering holding a Special Town Meeting in March to bring the Wing school proposal to the voters.
“This is a good proposal from an outstanding developer,” Mr. Vitacco has said.
The Stratford Capital Group is the same company that developed senior housing at the former Kempton J. Coady School in Bourne.
Besides the Coady School, the Stratford Capital Group purchased and transformed the former John Simpkins School on South Yarmouth’s Main Street into senior housing.
According to the Stratford Group’s proposal, the demolished buildings at the Wing school site would be replaced with two- and three- story buildings containing about 40 units each.
Common areas would include dining rooms, game rooms, meeting rooms, and quiet spaces, according to the bid.
Mr. Vitacco has said that if the Stratford Group’s proposal is chosen, the work would not commence until at least 2022.
The preservation committee is expected to discuss the matter further at its next meeting on Monday, February 3.