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Public hearing on affordable housing

The Town Council will open a public hearing tonight on a proposing Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, which would codify the town's decade-long policy of requiring 15 percent affordable housing in new developments.

Currently, the 15-percent mandate is not law and therefore applies only to developments that violate other zoning codes and need a Special-Use Permit (SUP) from the Town Council.

If approved, the new law would provide density bonuses as incentives to developers who provide affordable housing even when they are zoning-compliant and require only site-plan review by the Planning Board. Single-family developments could be 15 percent larger than under current zoning, and multi-family developments could add 3,400 to 4,400 extra square feet per affordable unit.

Since zoning along Franklin Street downtown has no density restrictions, the law would require a flat 10 percent affordable housing.

The ordinance would require half of the subsidized units to be affordable to those earning below 65 percent of the area median income and the other half to those earning between 65 and 80 percent, about $35,000 to $45,000 for a two-person household.

The town has been requiring 15-percent affordable housing in SUP projects since 2000. In that time, they have approved 336 affordable units out of 2,421 total housing units, just under 14 percent. They have also received pledges for $2.6 million as payments in lieu for affordable units not planned into projects for various reasons.

So far, developers have built 118 affordable units and placed them under the management of the Community Home Trust. More than 20 other homes built early in the last decade complied with council's policy because they were purposefully small in size and therefore sold at lower prices, even though developers sold them at market value.

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