WESTFORD -- The Affordable Housing Committee continues to plan housing on a portion of the 40-acre lot off Forrest Road known as the Edwards Parcel, though members say a citizens' petition has them under a time crunch.
Affordable Housing Committee member Rob Downing told the Board of Selectmen Tuesday the group is under more pressure to provide answers since abutters to the parcel filed a citizens' petition for Special Town Meeting on Oct. 21. Their proposal asks voters to protect the entire parcel by putting it under the control of the Conservation Commission. Affordable Housing Chairman Paul Cully said he is preparing to propose an amendment on the Town Meeting floor this month, to ask a now 3.4-acre portion of the site to be exempted. Cully said Habitat for Humanity has expressed extreme interest in building homes on the site, though the specifics and finances of that work are not yet known.
Cully showed selectmen a rough sketch on a map Tuesday, which showed the corner of Forrest and Tyngsboro roads devoted to six affordable homes with an access road off Tyngsboro Road. Previously, the committee discussed establishing a 25-unit project in the area.
Half of the suggested parcel Cully outlined is protected by the Massachusetts Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program but he said the committee has permission to complete work there.
Selectmen told Cully to continue developing ideas for the site, stating they are looking to the committee to form a recommendation for the board, and not the other way around. After a short discussion, Cully said it was clear to him selectmen would entertain the idea of perhaps five or six homes for the parcel, but 25 units would be out of the question.
Affordable Housing Committee members stressed this development is necessary for the town, where Westford falls under the Chapter 40B state law benchmark that mandates communities keep 10 percent of their housing affordable. Otherwise, the town is susceptible to developers building more densely than permitted by local zoning laws.
Affordable Housing Committee member Joanie Croteau added through her work she knows of several people at Hanscom Air Force Base who are looking to move to Westford but can't because of limited housing options. Habitat for Humanity of Greater Lowell Executive Director Brenda Gould said following the meeting she already has families lined up and ready to move in if this project comes together.
Cully said he is actually happy the citizens' petition came to the table, stating he hopes this helps this project get off the ground faster. He said he was disappointed the Cottages in the Woods project on Boston Road took so long to plan.
"I know I don't have all my ducks in a row but we're almost two years into this now," he said. "How much longer is this going to go on?"
Cully informed selectmen following a "request for information" process a few other groups said they would be more interested in pursuing the project if they felt neighbors were more receptive to the idea.
At a Sept. 10 meeting, several abutters came out to a selectmen's meeting then to oppose a roughly outlined proposal to establish a much larger project on the parcel. Selectman Jim Sullivan noted in the discussion with the board Tuesday he would be more open to a project that "fits the character" of the neighborhood.
Cully said he understands where neighbors are coming from with their concerns. This is the fourth or fifth proposal to come forward for the Edwards Parcel in recent years. He said he hopes the town will be more amenable to this smaller project now.
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