BERLIN — The Select Board will attempt to secure $1 million in federal funding to help advance plans to construct 30 units of permanently affordable housing on land owned by the Berlin Mall.
The project has a name — Fox Run — a pair of nonprofit partners — Downstreet Housing and Community Development and Evernorth — and a price tag that far exceeds the grants the board agreed to apply for during its virtual meeting Monday.
On a night when the board briefly discussed reviving a twice-rejected alternative tax proposal, members unanimously agreed to apply for grants — there are technically two of them — on behalf of Downstreet and Evernorth.
Representatives of both organizations attended Monday’s session and noted the requested funding, if awarded, would be passed through the town, likely to Downstreet as part of a bigger financing puzzle.
Julie Curtin, interim chief executive officer of Downstreet, explained there are two distinct grants and the amount of the requests is identical, as is the source.
Both $500,000 applications will be submitted to the Vermont Community Development Program, which administers federal Community Development Block Grant money.
Curtin said one of the grants would go toward “development and construction” of Fox Run. The 3-story apartment building Downstreet and Evernorth hope to build across the mall’s entrance road off Route 62 from a 98-unit senior housing development — Chestnut Place — that is now under construction.
If awarded, the grant would be a down payment on a multi-million project that would create 30 units of permanent affordable housing in Berlin.
The other $500,000 grant, if awarded, would be used to help finance improvements to the mall’s deteriorated access road off Route 62, according to Curtin.
In the interest of full disclosure, Matt Moore, senior developer for Evernorth, told the board the latter grant would come with a significant string attached.
According to Moore, in order to use the money for the requested purpose, the town will have to take over more than the first 50 feet of what has been a private drive since the mall was built nearly 35 years ago.
“The road will need to be owned by the town in the end,” he said.
In response to the road’s poor condition, previous select boards have balked at the prospect of taking over the drive until after it is upgraded to meet standards. In 2018 it agreed to take over the first 50 feet from Route 62, but the balance is the responsibility of the mall’s owners.
Moore acknowledged as much, noting that will have to change in order for the money being applied for to be spent
“That’s a process that the town is going to have to go through in order for us to bring that (grant) money in,” he said, suggesting that will need to happen in the “next year or so” if the grant is awarded.
Moore said he and Curtin planned to meet Tuesday with Town Administrator Vince Conti, Zoning Administrator Tom Badowski and representatives of the Berlin Mall to begin discussing the design of the road, as well as “who’s going to pay for it and when is going to be built?”
How much it will cost might be the bigger question, and it is one Moore said he wasn’t in a position to answer Monday night.
Chairman Justin Lawrence predicted it will be an expensive proposition.
“The road definitely needs a lot of work,” he said, acknowledging past discussions involving taking over the mall entrance have all included the caveat that it must first be brought up to town standards.
Mindful of the expense and eager to see the road improved, Moore said Downstreet and Evernorth were prepared to do the heavy lifting to secure grant funds for the road project.
“We’re hoping folks will agree to see this grant award that is going to go to the town and go to the road … as kind of our contribution toward the road,” he said.
Curtin said the “mixed-income” Fox Run project would include one three-bedroom, 16 two-bedroom and 13 one-bedroom apartments. All of the units would be affordable and eight would be accompanied by Section 8 vouchers that would further subsidize rents for low-income occupants.
While the board agreed to apply for the two $500,000 grants, members said they are open to exploring a charter change that, if approved by voters, would empower them to levy a 1% tax on some combination of sales, rooms, meals and alcohol.
Voters have rejected a 1% sales tax twice in the past 20 years. Estimates suggest that tax would generate roughly $500,000 in new revenue for the town that Lawrence said could be used to finance road and infrastructure upgrades and equipment purchases without further burdening the property tax residents.
The board asked for more information and is expected to discuss the concept more fully in coming weeks.