Nonprofit puts affordable housing project on hold

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/7/2019 10:18:23 PM
Modified: 3/7/2019 10:18:34 PM

NORWICH — A former real estate developer who created a nonprofit group to push for a small-scale affordable housing project in Norwich has dropped his efforts to purchase a parcel near downtown.

Stuart Richards, a 35-year Norwich resident, last month withdrew a request to the Selectboard for $34,000 in seed money for a seven-unit development on Goodrich Four Corners Road, saying two affordable housing groups aren’t interested in a project of that size.

“Without a partner (Norwich Affordable Housing Inc.) will be ceasing its activities,” Richards said in his Feb. 25 letter to town officials.

Last February, Richards created the registered nonprofit organization with a 22-person advisory committee.

After several months scouting for suitable locations, it made a $14,000 deposit to Allen H. Britton Trust for two parcels totaling 37 acres about 2 miles north of downtown on Goodrich Four Corners Road (Richards previously had declined to publicly identify the location).

In a phone interview last week, Richards said he is hopeful someone else might take up the plan.

“It might not be dead yet,” he said. “The way forward is to get people like (Selectboard chairman) John Pepper and (Planning Commission member) Jeff Lubell to sit face to face with guys like Twin Pines Executive Director Andrew Winter and continue to try to work this out.”

In the same withdrawal letter, Richards — a former ski resort real estate developer and 45-year licensed real estate broker — encouraged the Selectboard to consider the project.

NAHI failed to secure a development partner before the purchase contract expired Oct. 1, in part because of issues involving the location and capacity limitations of a septic system that would need to be installed.

Those same concerns led to an engineering assessment that only six or seven units would be viable on the land — rather than the 10 or more units originally envisioned — and affordable housing developers hesitated to invest in a project of such small scale, according to email correspondence provided by Richards.

Winter confirmed that Twin Pines elected not to pursue the Goodrich Four Corners project after its size was scaled back but said potential projects in Norwich are perpetually on his organization’s radar.

“I can unequivocally state that Norwich continues to be a priority for Twin Pines,” Winter said. “We will continue to explore and investigate other potential sites in town for affordable and workforce housing.”

Richards said projects such as the one he envisions on Goodrich Four Corners Road would honor the wishes of Norwich residents to see more small-scale affordable housing in town, which has a population of approximately 3,400 people and a median home value of more than $420,000.

“A lot of people agree with me that the demographic has changed so much in Norwich that native Vermonters, blue-collar workers and lower-income individuals can no longer afford to live here,” Richards said. “We’re losing residents because of it.”

Creigh Moffatt, co-chairwoman of the Norwich Affordable Housing Subcommittee, said such projects are especially challenging in Norwich because of the limitations to the town water system and high land and real estate prices.

“The key word is viability, and it’s so hard,” Moffat said. “But we’re always interested in pursuing anything we feel has potential.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at or 603-727-3216.

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