Canton is on its way to having a 200-unit senior housing complex that includes assisted living despite initial confusion over last minute changes to the plan.
The complex, a combination of independent senior housing units and assisted living units on Turnpike Street, could be operational as early as February 2015, an attorney for the developer said.
Selectmen struck an 11th-hour deal with the developer and provided new language for a relevant Warrant article to voters only hours before Town Meeting convened for its second session on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Selectmen delayed the same article when it came up during the first Town Meeting session on Monday on the grounds that it would be affected by the town budget, and should be deferred until after the budget article.
“We anticipated this would be a two-night Town Meeting,” said selectman Gerald A. Salvatori. “We were optimistic.”
Selectmen got the time they needed as Monday’s session ended while the body was still deliberating the budget article.
Wednesday’s session dealt almost entirely with the three articles affecting the development, which will be overseen by Brightview Senior Living.
The selectmen’s new deal involved having the developer pay more to the town – at least $600,000 rather than the original $250,000 offered by the developer – in lieu of constructing affordable housing, according to selectmen chairman Robert Burr.
The deal also restricts the development to 225 units maximum, prevents the development from moving forward unless Canton had at least 11 percent of its housing stock counted as affordable, and has the affordable housing payment turned over to the Board of Selectmen rather than the Community Preservation Committee as originally indicated, Burr said.
The vote on an amendment to an article accepting the deal was complicated, however, when another amendment was offered and moderator Alan Hines called for a vote before all residents were ready or knew what they were voting on.
Discussion was able to continue through a technicality when another resident proposed a nearly identical amendment, changing the dollar amount of one item in the original by $1.
Many of the attendees spent a portion of the three-and-a-half hour debate confused about what was under discussion.
Resident Kevin Folan took issue with the lateness of the changes selectmen were proposing.
“How did we get into this position? Why are we being handed multiple pieces of paper about this tonight?” Folan said. “I would vote ‘no’ to send selectmen a message to next time have their game on. I want to know 100 percent what I’m voting on.”
Moderator Hines responded that the committees in town do their best to get information out to the voters.
“The world isn’t perfect. When an opportunity arises, the timing of the opportunity does not always permit all the clear due diligence and effort be done prior to this fixed established date,” Hines said.
Residents remained concerned about the development pushing the town below its required 10 percent of affordable housing and allowing developers to come into town under the state’s 40B law to bypass local zoning.
Several residents called the payment in lieu of affordable housing a “payoff.”
Selectman Victor D. Del Vecchio discouraged that characterization. Of the two types of senior housing in the senior housing development, the independent units would be required to have 12 percent be affordable and the assisted living units would likely not be counted toward the town’s housing stock, as they are considered a group home, he said.
He added that he did not believe this decision would create a precedent of avoiding affordable housing because all developers would still have to be approved through the planning and zoning boards.
Selectman Avril T. Elkort said allowing the senior housing development was the right thing to do for the town.
“There is no assisted care facility in the town of Canton,” Elkort said, adding that seniors who have spent their lives in Canton have to leave town to seek assisted care.
Attorney Richard R. Staiti, representing the developer, presented to the assembled voters that the new development would bring in about $200,000 of additional tax revenue to the town each year.
Canton’s fire and police chiefs said they did not expect the development to significantly affect town resources.
The chairmen of the Finance Committee and the Planning Board also spoke in favor of the amendment and it passed. Residents passed all three articles with the required two-thirds majorities needed.