BERLIN — A second housing development proposed on land currently owned by the Berlin Mall has a catchy new name, an architect working on its final design, and a grant for a consultant to spearhead plans for a ground-floor child care center.
What it doesn’t have, but soon should, is a memorandum of understanding with the Berlin Select Board outlining its role in a collaborative development project proposed by Downstreet Housing and Community Development and Housing Vermont.
Downstreet Executive Director Eileen Peltier emphasized the importance of that document — a “precursor” to a more formal agreement that will be proposed in coming months — to a Select Board that wasn’t ready to approve it Monday night.
“You’re a critical partner,” Peltier told board members, who deferred action on the memorandum of understanding that has evolved from the draft the town was provided in December.
Town Administrator Dana Hadley modified the document in an effort to reflect the town’s interest in helping advance the project without promising things — like securing a “New Town Center” designation — that are beyond its control.
Peltier said she was “comfortable” with the language proposed by Hadley, who she credited with looking out for the interest of the town.
“It’s a little softer than the language that we put in, but that’s OK for now,” she said, noting that the modified memorandum of understanding would be a useful addition to a just-submitted application for federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits that are administered by the Vermont Housing Finance Agency.
Those tax credits, which will be awarded in April as part of a highly competitive process, would finance up to 70% of a multi-story development that would include a ground-floor child care center for up to 90 youngsters and 30 units of affordable housing in the upper floors.
“It helps us in the funding process to have the town commit to this,” Peltier said, even as Hadley explained Town Attorney Rob Halpert had just provided some additional revisions the board hadn’t reviewed.
The changes suggested by Halpert don’t alter the thrust of the memorandum of understanding, but Hadley recommended the board defer action on the document until after they – and Peltier – had a chance to review them. He suggested the document could be approved when the board meets on Feb. 19.
Instead of walking away with a signed document, Peltier provided the board with a brief update of a project that has been “re-branded” and is proposed for construction across the mall’s access road off Route 62 from a 98-unit senior housing complex that is in the process of obtaining a state land use permit.
The latter project – “Spruce Place” – contemplates mix of market rate apartments for seniors, as well as assisted living units, and an even more specialized component for those who require “memory care.” If all goes as planned its two nearest neighbors will be the garden center at Walmart and “Fox Run” – the name Peltier said has been chosen for a development that had previously been referred to as the “Berlin Town Center project.”
According to Peltier, the name has been chosen the application for tax credits was submitted to VHFA before Friday’s deadline, and an architect has started converting conceptual plans to a more concrete design, though the height and footprint of the building haven’t been decided.
If developers opt for a smaller footprint Peltier said a fourth story could be required, if not, three could suffice.
The first floor will house a child care center and Peltier said the development partners have a grant to hire a consultant through Let’s Grow Kids to work on that important aspect of what she described as “a really exciting project.”
Both inspired by the town center concept first floated by the mall’s owner, Peltier said “Spruce Place” and “Fox Run” would serve as a “gateway entrance” to a mall property that conceptual plans indicate could have more of a downtown feel.
That concept is embraced in Berlin’s award-winning town plan and is the focus of a New Town Center application the town hopes to submit later this year. That special state designation is viewed as crucial to the “Fox Run” project and is among the items referenced in the memorandum of understanding.