It’s crunch time for Ticcoma Green, the 64-unit affordable rental development that the town has proposed to be built on municipal property off Fairgrounds Road. It is by far the largest and most expensive of the affordable housing projects in the town’s pipeline, and one that it is counting on to stay in so-called “safe harbor” from 40B developments.
Yet despite more than eight years of planning, it’s still not clear that Ticcoma Green will ever become a reality. Delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an appeal by neighbors, and rising construction costs have all combined to imperil the viability of the ambitious development.
Last week, the town’s chosen developer for the project, HallKeen Management, was back before the Select Board to provide an update and to ask for an extension of the due diligence period in its agreement with the town for an additional 12 months, through Dec. 15, 2024. The company’s principals told the board that the project budget had increased significantly to “well over $50 million."
Ticcoma Green will require tax credits and subsidies, including more than $30 million coming from state housing agencies and at least a $6.5 million zero-interest loan from the town. Even if that financing is secured, HallKeen told the Select Board last week that it still had a $2.3 million shortfall that it was attempting to navigate before the end of the year.
In April 2022, the mixed-income rental housing project had been estimated at roughly $40 million.
“This has been a long, long process,” HallKeen president and CEO Andy Burnes conceded to the Select Board. “When I look back at the timeline of when I first came out with (HallKeen COO) Mark (Hess) in the RFP process in 2016, a lot has changed in the world and it’s really been one of the hardest projects we’ve even been involved with in 35 years of work. We went through the permitting process, the appeal process, then went back out to state stakeholders and worked with the town to put the funding together to deal with some of the increased costs. Time has passed, things have gotten even more complicated, and at this point, we’re trying to dot the I’s and cross the T’s and get this project done by the end of the third quarter or beginning of the fourth quarter. This extension is a critical piece for our moving forward.”
The plan for the Ticcoma Green project - which would be located west of the town's public safety facility lot on Fairgrounds Road - includes four buildings, 64 units, and 114 bedrooms. The property is owned by the town, and the Select Board issued a request for proposals to develop the land for workforce housing back in 2017. HallKeen emerged from that process as the town's chosen developer.
The 64 apartments would be divided into 12 three-bedroom units, 26 two-bedroom units, 14 one-bedroom units, and 12 studios. Fifty-one of the units would be restricted to individuals and households making below 120 percent of the area median income. The final 12 units would be rented at market rates. The development would have a total of 81 parking spaces.
While HallKeen’s principals stated they were still committed to the project and focusing most of their firm’s resources on it, they emphasized that the housing development was at a critical juncture with the state’s Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities (formerly the Department of Housing & Community Development).
“The project has seen a lot of stress,” said Mark Hess, HallKeen’s chief operating officer. “What Kate’s (Kate Racer of the state Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities) message to us on the second when we had a call was, we want to see the project done, and you’ve got to come back to us and show us you can get it done and what your critical path is. We’ve been grinding out scenarios to support and prove-out project feasibility. We’re at a point where we’re ready to put a package together and have a call with Kate and EOHLC. We’re a little behind the schedule, but not drastically. Maybe a couple of weeks. We do have a challenge right now - we have significant increases in construction costs and interest carry on the project. We’ve got that number down to about a $2.3 million delta which we will be discussing with Kate as part of what we do to get the project across the finish line. We’ll be turning over every stone on our end.”
The project has already survived a lawsuit filed by a group of neighboring property owners who appealed the local approval of the affordable housing development in state Land Court and then to a state appeals court. Those legal challenges were ultimately defeated when the appeals court rejected the lawsuits in January 2020, just before the start of the pandemic. But the financing aspect in the post-COVID-19 world has proven to be an even greater hurdle.
Back in the spring of 2022 when HallKeen asked the Select Board for a $6.5 million, zero-percent loan from the town which wouldn’t come due for 40 years, board members indicated their interest in supporting the request. But they also criticized several changes to the project, including the elimination of all basements from the four buildings that make up the 64 units, a move intended to bring down construction costs.
New municipal housing director Kristie Ferrantella told the Current this week that the terms and conditions of the $6.5 million loan have still not been finalized.
During last week’s presentation to the board, Ferrantella was asked if the town is counting on the Ticcoma Green project to stay in “safe harbor” - referring to the state law requiring towns to maintain at least 10 percent of their year-round housing stock as qualified affordable units (or show progress toward attaining that mark) - which allows municipalities to stave off 40B housing developments.
Ferrantella said the town's Affordable Housing Trust was indeed counting on the Ticcoma Green project to stay in safe harbor beyond December 2024, but it was already considering other plans should the affordable rental project fall through.
“That’s a little frightening to me that we’re counting on this at this point because of the way the world is,” Select Board member Matt Fee said. “We will have a very upset populace if we drop the ball on this after all the hard work everyone has done. A couple months from now, six weeks from now, we should be ramping up on plan B.”
The board ultimately approved the request to extend the due diligence period through mid-December, with a request that HallKeen continue to meet with Ferrantella and the town’s Affordable Housing Trust and share an update on the project within six weeks.