BRATTLEBORO -- The Selectboard approved an amendment to the town's zoning ordinance that will allow the Brattleboro Housing Authority to move forward with its plan to develop Red Clover Commons, a 55-unit affordable housing project slated for a parcel off of Canal Street.
The board voted 4-0 at its meeting Tuesday to change the zoning on the parcel at 464 Canal St. from commercial to a planned unit development.
The board had to adopt the zoning change Tuesday because Red Clover Commons will exceed the maximum number of allowed residential units in the existing commercial district. The zoning change was an important and crucial step for BHA as it works to finance and develop the three-story apartment building.
The board has been supportive of Red Clover Commons, but the vote was taken Tuesday after a long discussion over the fate of BHA's Melrose Terrace. BHA has to close down Melrose Terrace because it is in the floodway and all of the tenants at Red Clover Commons will be moving over from the West Brattleboro housing complex.
Board Chairman David Gartenstein said he was concerned with what would happen to the buildings at Melrose Terrace after the residents moved out.
"I'm not satisfied with the language that we've got relating to the disposition of Melrose at this point," Gartenstein said. "I'm not really in favor of moving forward with the approval of the PUD until there is better language relating to the disposition of Melrose.
BHA Board Chairman William Bedard wrote a letter to the Selectboard on July 28 stating that "There are some possible future scenarios under which this site could become burden to the town."
Gartenstein and fellow board member Kate O'Connor said they were concerned with the wording in the letter and the statement set off an almost-30 minute debate over the future use of the property at Melrose Terrace.
BHA Executive Director Chris Hart took responsibility for the letter and said she was trying to make it clear to the board that BHA was going to do everything possible to not allow that to happen.
Melrose Terrace has a number of limitations on its future. The almost 50-year-old buildings are in the floodway and also are close to achieving historical status, which will place even more restrictions on the buildings.
BHA board member Marshall Wheelock said he was unable to make any promises about Melrose Terrace, but he stated the housing authority's commitment to doing what it can to assure that Melrose Terrace is inhabited in some form after the residents move out.
"All I can say is that the Board of Commissioners is adamant that it will not become a problem for the town," Wheelock told the Selectboard. "It's a really nice, attractive property. The board of commissioners, who have the last say as far as the housing authority is concerned, we want something nice out of that. That's the legacy of the housing authority."
Hart said the housing authority will be having a meeting in September with state and federal officials who will provide greater clarity on what options might be available for the future of Melrose Terrace.
"This board was trying to be honest with you in saying, 'We don't want to pursue any of those options where there might be collateral damage, if you will, that happens to the town,'" Hart said. "We would be responsible for those deserted 18 buildings. That is absolutely what we do not want to see. We don't want Melrose in any way to be a burden to the town."
The board eventually was swayed enough to allow the zoning change to move forward.
-- The board held its final hearing on changes to its parking ordinance that will prohibit parking on the easterly side of Depot Street. The ordinance will go into effect on Oct. 18 unless a petition is handed before Sept. 18 calling for a special vote on the change.
-- At Tuesday night's meeting Finance Director John O'Connor said with most of the work done on the 2014 fiscal year it appeared as though the town was going to close out the year in good shape.
The town's surplus account has increased by $499,715, O'Connor said.
"We're looking good," O'Connor said. "I think we're going to have a good year this year and I feel very positive about that."
-- The board also approved a four-year agreement with Living Memorial Park Snow Sports, Inc. to maintain and operate the ski tow at Living Memorial Park.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. Follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.