Harris Lot

The Harris Lot in Brattleboro is being eyed as a potential place to add housing. 

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BRATTLEBORO — A local firm is exploring the idea of bringing housing to a municipal parking lot behind the recreation and senior center on Main Street.

“I think that it’s interesting,” Select Board Vice Chairman Daniel Quipp said. “This is a new vision for what a parking lot could look like.”

About a month-and-a-half ago, the town put out a request for qualifications for redeveloping Harris Lot behind the Gibson-Aiken Center by creating about four to six floors of new housing and an underground parking area. Town Manager Yoshi Manale, who came up with the idea, said three groups submitted qualifications.

On Tuesday, the Select Board authorized Manale to execute an option agreement with M&S Development of Brattleboro. A financial and development proposal for the property is due within six months.

“After a presentation of that proposal, and if M&S Development LLC determines the project is financially feasible, the Select Board will consider a Real Estate Development Option, which will include purchasing the public property and or other options as defined at that time,” Manale wrote in a memo. If the board accepts the plan, he added, it’ll need to be considered at Representative Town Meeting but there’s no obligation to the town.

In a document submitted to the town, M&S said the project “supports mixed-income housing within a walkable downtown” and is near amenities like the Brooks Memorial Library, financial institutions, community organizations and restaurants. It also “adds necessary units to a historically tight housing market.”

“Constructing a subterranean parking garage would mean that community members still have access to downtown parking,” the document states, referring to a component the town has proposed for the project. “A below grade parking structure is essential to meeting the town’s parking needs for this area. However, the cost of such a structure makes the project less economically viable.”

M&S said since the property is surrounded by multiple buildings, it will decrease the work area for construction. The firm warned that the project will not be able to serve mixed-income residents without subsidies and it would not be eligible for three of the most significant tax credit programs because it is for new residential and won’t be recognized as affordable housing.

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Board member Elizabeth McLoughlin said the group should focus on senior housing and Manale agreed. Citing issues in what she described as an underused parking facility downtown known as the Transportation Center, she also raised concerns about how an underground parking area could become a nuisance for the town.

“I’m very excited about the possibility of this,” board member Tim Wessel said. “We should take a step back at some point and say what is the advantage of the underground parking?”

Board member Jessica Gelter said she’s excited to see where the project goes and what the town can learn. Quipp pointed out how the qualifications submitted by M&S mentioned the firm’s success in “financing complex projects.”

“We are accomplished in sourcing capital for projects that, on paper, appear unfeasible yet are crucial to a community’s vitality,” wrote M&S Principal Bob Stevens, who also founded Stevens & Associates of Brattleboro. “Tax credits, grant funding, community-targeted equity, and state monies are a few funding sources obtained for previous projects.”

Wessel said he has a lot of faith in the firm. It provided services for projects including the Brooks House redevelopment in Brattleboro, the Putnam Block in Bennington, an apartment complex in Rhode Island, and the project aimed at bringing housing and workspace to Brattleboro’s 47 Flat St.

In the memo, Manale said the proposed area for development excludes eight parking spots and two accessible parking spots for seniors behind the Gibson Aiken Center. He also noted how the Brattleboro Recreation and Parks Department has an agreement with Consolidated Communications to provide an additional six to eight parking spots.

“All other recreation parking would be directed to other municipal lots, with the possibility of a van to offer rides to those that would need assistance,” he wrote.