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Norwich Housing Plans Still Face Hurdles



Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, November 25, 2018

Norwich — Twin Pines Housing has stepped up its efforts to develop affordable housing in Norwich, encouraged in part by a town survey that indicated support for small-scale development and by strong voter approval earlier this month to revive an affordable housing reserve fund.

“We are definitely interested in developing affordable and workforce housing in Norwich,” Twin Pines Housing Executive Director Andrew Winter said on Friday. “Given its proximity to major employment centers in the Upper Valley, it makes sense.”

The White River Junction-based housing nonprofit has been talking with an independent group in Norwich and with landowners in town, though Winter noted that Twin Pines is also busy at the moment with other projects, including a 30-unit project under construction off Sykes Mountain Avenue in White River Junction and 29 units on Tracy Street in West Lebanon.

Norwich resident Stuart Richards, a former real estate developer at Killington and a licensed real estate broker in Vermont since 1973, has been working with Twin Pines through a nonprofit he created, Norwich Affordable Housing Inc.

Richards’ group signed a purchase agreement in May on a parcel of land within two miles of downtown Norwich which he hoped Twin Pines could use to develop up to 10 units of affordable housing.

However, the land contract expired this fall before various issues that were central to the project — including a Green Mountain Power right of way impinging on where a required septic system would be located — could be resolved, Richards said.

Richards declined to say exactly where it is located, but said it is more than 20 acres in size and zoned rural residential.

“It does not require a variance or anything else. It does require, however, a state septic permit and it will require Act 250 permits, and it obviously requires funding,” Richards said.

“They may yet do it,” he said of Twin Pines. “I’m hopeful that they will.”

Winter confirmed that his group is continuing to talk to the landowner about the site, along with assessing other potential locations in town.

“We continue to work on several sites in Norwich for both a potential home ownership project as well as a rental project,” he said.

Winter said he was encouraged by a recent town survey in which 22 percent of respondents said they believed 8 to 16 units of affordable housing should be built in the next five years, with another 22 percent putting the number at 17 to 25 units. A smaller number, 16 percent, backed building between 26 and 100 units.

He also noted that the 1,575-400 vote on Election Day to revive a fund now holding $45,700 that can be used to support the development of affordable housing was a positive sign.

Development of affordable housing in Norwich — which has a population of 3,400 and a median home value of more than $423,000 — has been slow and complicated in coming.

Richards notes that just one building of affordable housing has been built in town in the past 25 years. The 14-unit Starlake Lane development was built then, well north of downtown near Interstate 91. And the 24-unit senior housing complex in downtown was built 40 years ago.

Twin Pines had been involved more than a decade ago in a proposal to develop the former Agway site off Route 5 north of downtown, but septic issues were a problem there, too.

“I think there have been a couple of challenges in identifying appropriate sites in Norwich, and some of those revolved around the lack of sewer, and by necessity the need to put in septic,” Winter said.

Creigh Moffatt, the co-chair of the Norwich Affordable Housing Subcommittee, said “it seems like we all have the same goals and desires,” in bringing more affordable housing to town, but at an appropriate scale for the town. She said the revival of the fund — which her committee and other town officials must still determine how it will be used — was an important step.

“Having the fund is very essential, because you need to show you have some genuine level of enthusiasm for making this happen in town,” Moffatt said.

John P. Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com or 603-727-3217.

Correction

A recent survey in Norwich found that  22 percent of respondents said they believed 8 to 16 units of affordable housing should be built in the next five years, with another 22 percent putting the number at 17 to 25 units. A smaller number, 16 percent, backed building between 26 and 100 units.  An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the survey results.