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Banks throw curve at proposed artists? lofts

Artists might be a good bet for community revitalization, but they're seen as less reliable when it comes to qualifying for a mortgage.

Developer Deborah Fairbanks learned that the hard way after banks told potential buyers that her artists' lofts were financially risky. In response, she has asked the Marlborough City Council to allow changes to her special permit for Renaissance Lofts, a 29-unit condominium project in the final stages of construction on Lincoln Street.

Rather than require that 70 percent of the condo units be sold to artists, Fairbanks is asking that the permit grant preference to artists. The change is designed to assuage the concerns of bankers.

"I've not met through the loan process a lot of consistently employed artists," said Donna Tiso, vice president of lending at Marlborough Co-operative Bank. "An artist's income is not necessarily easily documented or consistent for purposes of qualifying for a mortgage, and that could be an issue."

Tiso said she has received more than a half-dozen calls from interested buyers. But the bottom line is, the bank doesn't want to give a mortgage to someone who can't afford it, she said, and it also has to protect the value of its collateral. Eliminating the 70-percent restriction should help on both counts, said Tiso.

The City Council decided the change being requested by Fairbanks was significant enough to require a new public hearing, which has not yet been scheduled.

Fairbanks said the process throws off her plans, but she won't know by how much until that hearing and the timeline for a decision are clear. She was hoping the first tenants could set up housekeeping -- alongside their easels or pianos -- in September.

She said she doesn't think her requested changes will fundamentally alter the plan to build an artists' community, as she will continue to market the units to those who paint, sculpt, dance, or write.

"I'm still trying to set this up for artists," said Fairbanks, an architect who plans to live in one of the units. "It's a matter of whether it becomes an attractive place for artists to live and work or not."

The condominiums, priced at $235,000 and up, have been chiseled out of a century-old mill building near downtown. Photos of the model unit at rlofts.com show a contemporary design with exposed brick, huge windows, and high ceilings. The three-story building will have a rooftop deck and a courtyard in the center.

Fairbanks is requesting a few other minor changes from the City Council as well. She is asking for removal of the requirement that future sales be approved by the trustees of the condominium association. She says that the term of the permit also concerns banks because approval could be slow in coming, potentially jeopardizing a sale. Also, the gallery space should be subdivided into two galleries because gallery owners who have toured it so far say it is too large, according to Fairbanks.

Contact Lisa Kocian at 508-820- 4231 or lkocian@globe.com.

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