Lenox Community Preservation Committee
March 2, 2015
In Attendance: Frederick Keator (Chair), Al Harper (At Large), Olga Weiss (LHS), Joe Strauch (Conservation Commission), Gwen Miller (Town Planner), Betsy Strauch (guest), Susan Wissler (ED, Mount), Catherine May (Housing Authority), Gene Chague (At Large), Tony Patella (Community Center) Clarence Fanto (Berkshire Eagle) , Debbie Burke (Affordable Housing Trust/Committee)
The Community Preservation Committee met on Monday, March 2 to prioritize projects submitted for consideration. The meeting began at 7:20.
The February 9 meeting minutes were approved as amended. The February 23 meeting minutes were tabled until the next meeting as not enough committee members at the last meeting were present to vote.
The Committee heard and decided upon the following issues:
- Susan Wissler of the Mount formally withdrew the Mount’s application seeking funds for a sustainability master plan. She said that the Mount is moving forward with their effort and hopes that committee members will remain involved.
- The Committee moved to ensure that all applicants will have an opportunity to present and discuss their projects prior to the March 16 Public Hearing, and that they will work to clarify their procedure and policies prior the commencement of the Fiscal Year 2017 CPC process. This motion was seconded and approved unanimously. The Committee went through the list of remaining applications and determined that the only projects of which they hope to hear more information are the town projects: the Academy Building and the Library steps restoration. They felt they had the opportunity to hear from applicants and ask questions during meetings.
- The Committee invited Town Manager Christopher Ketchen in to discuss the Academy Building Project and Library Steps project on March 9.
- The Committee requested that Building Inspector Don Fitzgerald look at the Walker House and provide cost estimates for necessary repairs.
The Committee spent time discussing the CPC application and selection process this year in comparison with that of previous years. Mr. Patella noted that in past years, they had formally invited and scheduled applicants at individual meetings to ask questions about each project and hear from the applicant. Mr. Keator said that this year, they had applicants come in before they filed applications. Ms. Weiss indicated that it is very important to be very clear as to when applicants are supposed to come before the committee so that each applicant has the same, equal opportunity, and so that community members know when they can come to support a project or ask questions about a project. Mr. Keator suggested that the group go through the list of projects and see who they want to invite back prior to the
public hearing on March 16. Ms. Miller asked to clarify the purpose of the public hearing—if it is for the committee to gather more information and if it is for the public to learn more about each project. Mr. Keator said it serves both purposes. Ms. Weiss moved to return to the old procedure; Ms. Miller pointed out that there were two different efforts: the effort to determine which projects require further information and an opportunity before the committee prior to the March 16, 2015 public hearing, and an effort to revise and adhere to a clearer process. She suggested that the committee should wait to address the policy and process this summer or fall when they have time to look at how other communities do it and dig into how they want the next process to go. The motion was made by Ms. Weiss to make sure that all applicants come before the committee prior to March 16, and that the committee work to revise and/or formalize their policy and procedure in the summer or early fall
for the next CPC round of applications. This was seconded and approved unanimously.
After addressing these administrative topics, the Committee discussed the following applications:
- Beach House: Tony Patella indicated that the Community Center is withdrawing the Beach House application. They will use general fund money to repair the beach house, and will seek alternative funding sources for the landscaping and ADA compliant walkway upon final approval of the Open Space and Recreation Plan, noting that the final approval of the plan will open up funding opportunities. He also noted that the Community Center is open to approaching the CPC for funds in the future.
- Affordable Housing Trust: Deborah Burke, Chair of the Affordable Housing was present to respond to questions and comments made at the February 23 meeting regarding the Housing Committee/Trust’s application for 10% of the community housing CPA sleeve. Ms. Burke explained that the Trust/Committee hopes to take advantage of relaxed regulations through which home buyers can receive down payment funds from other sources such as family members or organizations such as the Affordable Housing Committee/Trust. She noted that the Trust/Committee anticipates more opportunities to evolve over the time, pointing to Veterans Affairs which could offer matching grants to first time home buyers. She also mentioned Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation. Ms. Burke estimated that the Committee has $110,000 currently. She
noted that that the Community Preservation Committee has made many shows of good faith, including their support of the Bartoni Property Purchase and past funds allocated to the Trust/Committee. She estimated that there are approximately 10 homes in Lenox that could qualify for the existing matching grant program the Trust/Committee provides. Ms. Miller noted that Lenox, in comparison to other Berkshire communities, is not as competitive for state or federal housing fund programs such as CDBG (Community Development and Block Grant) and that this creates pressure to seek local funds and support. She also noted that the funds allocated this year could help expand programming to help with housing rehabilitation and renovation as is taking place in Great Barrington and Sheffield through CDBG funds.
Mr. Harper asked what the premium on a Lenox house is; Ms. Burke indicated $50,000 to $60,000. Mr. Keator asked Ms. Burke if anybody could use the matching grant program to buy a house—even a $500,000 home. Ms. Burke explained that there are income limits and standards that a household must meet to qualify for the grant program. Mr. Strauch asked how much each grant is typically, and Ms. Burke said $10,000. Mr. Strauch said they could make 11 awards with the funds they currently have.
Ms. Burke said that the Affordable Housing Trust/Committee would be happy to receive $50,000 just to create flexibility, in case other programs become available or a property was to become available for purchase by the Trust/Committee.
The Committee sought additional information regarding the Academy Building and the library steps project; Ms. Miller said she would inform Town Manager Christopher Ketchen that he should come to the March 9 meeting to discuss these projects further.
The Committee discussed the application submitted by the owners of the Walker House with support from the Lenox Historical Commission.
- Walker House: Ms. Weiss provided an update on Walker House. She said she had met with Board of Selectman Ken Fowler and Mrs. Houdek that morning, and that Mrs. Houdek planned to list the home with McLane Realty and sign the papers the next day (March 3). She explained that the home would be sold as a private residence, not a business. She said she hoped that the application for the Walker House could also drive the creation of a historical trust through which owners of historic homes could apply for grants or loans to conduct historic preservation independent of the Community Preservation Committee’s temporal cycle. There was some discussion of the Cambridge Historical Commission’s grant program. Ms. Miller said she had not heard back from anybody at the CHC yet.
Committee members expressed concern about funding deferred maintenance on a private residence. Mr. Chague asked if there are multiple liens on the property. Ms. Weiss indicated that they do have a mortgage and a home equity loan. So, if the town were to fund repairs and require the return of these funds at the point of sale, the town would not be the first party to get the funds returned.
Ms. Weiss explained that it has been very challenging to get straightforward information from the property owners as they are dealing with illness and have been forced to stop operating their business.
Ms. Miller said she would coordinate with Building Inspector Don Fitzgerald to identify cost estimates for the needed repairs at Walker House.
The meeting adjourned at 8:45.