Photo by Ryan Mooney
Following a long opening ceremony - including a group rendition of Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" by an assembly of middle school students - affordable housing became one of the top themes of the night among the 138 members present for the annual Danvers Town Meeting at Holten Richmond Middle School.
After much debate the town meeting passed a motion to allow Habitat for Humanity to build an affordable housing duplex on the open green space next to the Danversport School Apartments at 10 Water Street, despite the protest of residents and town meeting members in the area who believe that the open space is necessary for children in the neighborhood. The duplex will bring the total number of units to 10, still two less than the maximum number allowed on the property.
The neighbors argue that a new building would add to the density of the already congested area, and that the 15,000 square foot lot should be kept open for residents, specifically children who they say would otherwise have no safe place nearby to play.
Town Meeting member Janice Tipert (first precinct) backed two area residents who spoke before the meeting body, citing concerns over the size of the new structure, and suggesting that it might be an eyesore to the neighbors of which it would effectively stand in their backyard.
"It seems like a very inappropriate place to put a house," Tipert said.
But Andrea Daley (third precinct), a former employee of the Danvers Housing Authority, says that the two neighbors present on Monday night are not representative of the population of the Danversport area as a whole, and that most residents are actually on board with adding the duplex, which will only take up a fraction (1,200 square feet) of the plot.
No additional green space would be paved for parking; the new duplex will use the existing lot on River Street.
"At least one family from Danvers will be living in one of those duplex apartments," Daley said. "I don't go by Mill Street every day, but I go by there frequently enough to tell you that I have not seen that lot being used by children...I urge you after all this time that we've spent on this project to allow Article 29 to pass."
"It's still below the maximum number of residences [allowed]," said William Clark, chairman of the Board of Selectman, who was a member of the town meeting in the 1980s when the Housing Authority obtained the land. "As far as the green space and the ability for kids to play, this neighborhood has three public parks in it...I would be in favor of it, as I think all of our board members were."
The town meeting also easily passed a motion to request that the Commonwealth consider special legislation that would count all of Danvers' roughly 200 mobile homes as low or moderate income housing units, which would put the town over the required minimum of 10 percent affordable housing set forth by Massachusetts General Law Chapter 40B.
Any mobile homes that have been present on the same parcel of land for 20 years or more as of January 1, 2013 would be counted under the petition.
The town of Salisbury took similar action last year, and Clark is looking for Saugus, Peabody and other towns with a substantial number of mobile homes to get on board with the action.
"We think that if we can get enough towns to sponsor this that it might have some inertia to gain some traction in the state house," Clark said.