HARTFORD – A proposal for an apartment building aimed at the homeless population drew support on Monday night from people hoping to make a dent in the housing crisis and opposition from neighboring residents concerned about the effect of the development on the piece.
More than 80 people turned out for a Hartford Planning Commission meeting to discuss the 18-unit complex proposed by the non-profit Twin Pines Housing Trust. It would be a three-storey structure of one-bedroom apartments on land to be acquired from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Route 5 in White River Junction. The site is adjacent to Upper Valley Haven, which also plans to build a 20-person low-barrier shelter for homeless people.
The meeting had been scheduled as a back-to-back, with the Zoning Board of Adjustment discussing a conditional use permit on Tuesday, but the zoning meeting went ahead when some board members were unable to attend. .
Still, Monday’s meeting was a hot topic for planning commissioners, who spent most of the four-hour online-only meeting hearing from more than 70 people who asked questions or offered testimony. on the proposal.
Some opposition to the project centered on the changes that residents feared would exacerbate already entrenched problems in the neighborhood.
“What’s happening in this area now doesn’t seem safe,” said Christy Durgin, who said she lived four doors down from the proposed compound. “Even in broad daylight now, children have been approached on their way home from school. We are not as safe as it is now.
On the other side of the issue, supporters – including the Reverend Scott Neal of St. Paul’s Church – spoke of meeting the needs of homeless people.
“I’ve had many encounters with our homeless singles,” Neal said. “They had a difficult start and were unlucky in life. I have a deep interest in discovering and serving our homeless brothers and sisters.
Prior to the Commissioners was Twin Pines’ second application for approval of the planned development. The planning commission rejected an earlier application in mid-February, but the developers made changes in response to criticism from the commission and neighbors of the project.
Among the changes is the addition of a pitched roof instead of the original flat roof which would have accommodated the solar panels better. There have also been changes such as changing the color and shape of the windows, the placement of a driveway and bike racks, adding a fence and more.
Andrew Winter, executive director of Twin Pines Housing, said the organization has worked hard to improve the proposal and respond to these challenges and that the project will help the community by providing stable housing for people who need it.
“You won’t be home everyone, but it makes a difference,” Winter said. “Getting people into accommodation gets them out of the campsite and solves some of the issues that neighbors are complaining about.
He also said the apartments would require people to pay 30% of their income in rent and would house men and women of all ages. The apartments will require a one-year lease and tenants will need to qualify with background checks for drug trafficking or gender-based convictions.
The building is part of a larger plan for St. Paul’s property, and the interplay between the church, Twin Pines and the Haven is part of why many people in the neighborhood have come out to urge the Commission planning not to approve the apartment complex. While the plans go hand in hand, Haven’s shelter is officially a separate proposal from the pre-commission Twin Pines one.
Commissioner Colin Butler addressed the intertwined proposals, which were also raised by many members of the public in their comments.
“It’s hard to comment on this project without knowing what the Haven is offering,” Butler said. “Without seeing what the Haven offers, there may not be room.”
Butler admitted, however, that judging Twin Pines’ proposed project by how well it would work with Haven’s plans was unfair.
“It’s their projects on their property on their side of the line,” Butler said. “It’s kind of hard to imagine the impact on the community.”
Twin Pines says the location next to the Haven is key to allowing apartment tenants to access the services of the Haven next door.
Objections from some neighbors have been attributed to the way the various non-profits have handled introducing the project to the community.
“I would be the first person to help make this work, but it’s been difficult because I don’t feel like I’ve been listened to,” Michelle Boleski, a close neighbor, said when it was her turn. to speak. “There has been a complete disrespect for the people who live here from St. Paul’s, The Haven and Twin Pines.”
Others were more complimentary to the parties behind the development. Supporter David Allen said the city needs to consider the implications of not allowing the project and failing to address two critical issues facing the community: homelessness and a lack of affordable housing.
“This project is going to take people and provide them with housing options, and it’s going to help the neighborhood,” Allen said. “I’m a huge supporter of Twin Pines Housing and The Haven. They are well run organizations, the best in the Upper Valley in their respective fields.
Commissioners had questions but were generally reluctant to give too many opinions. A few questioned the size of the proposed structure, including Commissioner John Heath, who was concerned about it and the Haven squeezing onto the plot.
“It’s all connected,” Heath said. “I really feel like there should be more space.”
He also asked if a 14-unit apartment building, the original plan, would allow the structure to be built on just two stories.
Winter said the savings just don’t add up as well at 14 units as they do at 18, with operating expenses including audit fees, maintenance, insurance, taxes and more. .
“It’s really tough,” Winter said. “The costs add up. Having those extra units makes a big difference.
Two other neighbors who spoke said they saw both sides of the issue.
Jessica Pecora, who lives across the street, said she works at the Haven.
“On the one hand, I see all the wonderful work the Haven is doing, but I’m also a neighbor,” Pecora said. “I support this project, and the Haven has always been a wonderful neighbor. With the housing crisis we are experiencing right now, this is a wonderful opportunity to make a dent in that.
Marcy Bartlett, however, was slightly less supportive but offered Twin Pines a compliment.
“You do better,” Bartlett told Winter of the improved app. “It takes you a while to learn that we are your boots on the pitch. We live it. We are the experts.
After more than four hours, the council decided to continue the meeting until May 23 without making a decision.
The following night, a scheduled meeting of the Zoning Board of Adjustment dealing with an application for a conditional use permit for the same property also continued until its May meeting after some board members were unable to attend. to present oneself.
Darren Marcy can be reached at [email protected] or 802-291-4992.