Another developer has sought approval for a project barred under temporary zoning in Milton.
Billy Sawyer, a local residential and commercial builder, is now the second to ask the selectboard for conditional use approval for his mixed use planned unit development, temporarily banned under interim zoning bylaws.
Designed by the Planning Commission, interim zoning pauses permitting of multifamily housing in the downtown core for up to two years while the PC rewrites zoning.
The selectboard gets say on non-conforming projects and heard Sawyer’s application Monday night. It previously approved a small expansion to a mini storage business, despite how public warehousing is temporarily banned townwide.
Sawyer’s proposed phased development at 444-452 Route 7 South includes two commercial structures that would pass interim zoning as-is; three residential buildings with 22 dwelling units triggered the extra review.
Construction would require demolishing six homes and one auto repair business near Clifford Drive, the proposal states.
During the 90-minute hearing, Sawyer’s development adviser David White outlined how the project is consistent with town goals, despite the interim zoning preclusions.
He particularly challenged the town’s conclusion that interim zoning will draw commercial developers to town, a big PC selling point to the selectboard when it approved the ban in March. He doesn’t think Milton’s residential development is outpacing commercial.
“If the market demand isn’t there, there’s nothing you can do to force that to occur,” White said. “I’ve got concerns, if you will, from just a public policy perspective.”
White also questioned the town halting residential development when it only has until 2018 to incur debt in its town core tax increment financing district.
TIFs allow municipalities to retain taxes to build infrastructure it couldn’t otherwise afford to incite growth, paid back with the incremental tax revenue generated from that growth.
“Trying to stop development within the same district is a direct contradiction to TIF,” said White, whose company, White + Burke, helped establish four TIFs statewide. “That, in fact, may hinder your ability to be able to afford and have the capacity for the debt.”
White also said these two-bedroom units wouldn’t substantially increase student populations. He cited MSTD data showing Milton’s school population has declined since 2001 and noted Milton Superintendent John Barone told his company the district could absorb this growth.
PC Chairwoman Lori Donna later refuted this point, saying Barone testified in March that Milton has seen increased enrollment. Further, school trustees just discussed how there are too many apartment complexes and not enough businesses to boost the tax base and help absorb budget increases.
Selectman John Cushing wondered how much Sawyer’s project would increase the tax base, but White didn’t have that information available. Cushing added he’s concerned about paying back the TIF debt and suggested the PC, school and selectboard all discuss it.
Selectboard Chairman Darren Adams asked Sawyer why these 22 housing units are needed. Sawyer said only four of his 180 housing units are vacant, showing a real need for housing.
Donna said this project would conflict with the PC’s goal to create a commercial-only zone.
“We know that we can’t force commercial, but we know we can do things to encourage commercial and direct it in certain ways,” she said.
“There’s always going to be a demand to build residential,” she added. “We want to make sure as a town that it’s going to be done in the right way.”
White assured the board this development would be: “Billy certainly intends to do an attractive project,” he said.
In the end, the board voted to recess the hearing until its December 7 meeting, allowing time for a December 5 site visit with the PC, which will also weigh in on the matter.
Even if approved by the selectboard, the project would also require local development review board and state Act 250 approval.