DARTMOUTH — Despite some objections to the high cost of building eight units of congregate housing off Anderson Way for elderly with mental health issues, the town will pitch in with $500,000 in Community Preservation Act community housing funds to help finance the project.
The town funding, approved at the recent town meeting, will supplement anticipated grant awards and private fundraising needed to complete the estimated $3.6 million specialized housing facility, to be staffed by the state Department of Mental Health (DMH) for 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The project is being proposed by the non-profit Partners in Housing, Inc. for town-owned land near the entrance to the Dartmouth Housing Authority apartment complex on Anderson Way. The charitable organization that promotes affordable housing initiatives throughout the region is proposing to build a four-unit congregate unit with a common area, and four other one-bedroom apartments at the site.
Occupancy would be limited to local DMH clients over 55 years of age who are in need of some supportive services to maintain an independent lifestyle and stay out of expensive nursing homes longer, explained Partners in Housing President Michael Gagne. The facility will be called the Mendes–Monteiro House, in memory of deceased Housing Authority members Joseph Mendes and Joseph Monteiro.
While a number of members rose to support the funding request, some felt the project was just too expensive. Asked why the Finance Committee recommended against the expenditure with a 3-2 vote, committee chairwoman Teresa Hamm said: “it came down to the cost per unit, and the number of people served.”
Precinct 6 representative Curtis Nunes was in opposition, saying the $400,000 per person cost shouldn’t be considered “affordable housing” by any yardstick. He said the price was “out of control” for the small number of residents to be served.
Precinct 7 representative Brock Cordeiro, a Housing Authority member, agreed the proposal was “an expensive project,” but urged other members “to do the right thing” for older residents with special needs. “We’ve done it for seniors, we’ve done it for veterans” with other affordable housing initiatives, he said.
Housing Authority Executive Director Connie Desbiens spoke passionately about the need for such a facility in Dartmouth. “There is no housing like this in the entire town,” she said, noting the single-floor living, subsidized rents, and on-site support services will help keep residents out of nursing homes.
The units would be rented to area residents only if there aren’t enough Dartmouth applicants to fill the eight units, she explained. The DMH would cover all operating and staffing costs, she reported.
Meeting members also approved the use of $400,000 in available CPA funds to help the Conservation Commission purchase 57.8 acres of land off High Hill Road and permanently protect it as conservation land. The commission will develop a trail system on the property for passive recreation use.
The property abuts other conservation lands in the area and will help create a 3.8 mile-long “greenway” connecting portions of the Southeastern Mass. Bioreserve to the Acushnet Cedar Swamp said Community Preservation Committee Chairman Buddy Baker-Smith.
He noted that Dartmouth is reasonably assured it will receive a $232,000 state LAND grant to reimburse the town for about 58 percent of the expenditure. The grant funds would be returned to the CPA accounts to help finance other projects, Baker-Smith explained.
The approving vote came with some dissension, with Assessor Robert Michaud speaking against the purchase because he felt the town is losing too much property tax revenues by continuing to put land under conservation restrictions.
Budget & Finance Director Greg Barnes indicated there are “some development opportunities” available for the parcel that might generate a little tax revenue, but he felt it was more valuable to the town as “a link between two major conservation areas.”
A majority show of hands also approved the formal establishment of an overlay district where adult use recreational marijuana businesses will be allowed to locate, roughly covering the same areas in North Dartmouth where medical marijuana establishments can be located.
Planning Board Chairman Joel Avila said the new zoning bylaw was needed because the town’s moratorium on recreational marijuana businesses will expire in December, and such businesses would then be able to locate in any commercial area by right under state law.
The new overlay district will permit cultivation, processing and sales facilities in the Office Industrial and General Industrial districts mostly along Faunce Corner Road, with the addition of the Limited Industrial district north and east of the main commercial district in town; such uses would require a special permit from the Planning Board.
The new “industry” would be limited to three establishments across the entire overlay district, and be subject to the same 500-foot setbacks from private residences, schools, and other sites where children are regularly present, such as day care facilities, the chairman explained.
There are no provisions for on-site consumption of recreational marijuana in the bylaw, the Planning Board’s recommendation letter noted; so there will be no “cannabis cafes” in Dartmouth in the near future.
Such businesses will not be allowed “until or unless the voters of the Town approve an initiative petition to allow such on-site consumption,” the letter said.