NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

October 23, 2012

Salisbury OK's pursuing housing law change

Town seeking to count mobile homes as affordable housing

By Angeljean Chiaramida Staff Writer
Newburyport Daily News

---- — SALISBURY — For the second year in a row, Town Meeting voted to request the state Legislature amend the definition of affordable housing to include the town’s mobile and manufactured homes that have remained on the same lot for at least 20 years.

Town Meeting last night voted unanimously to send a home rule petition back to the Legislature seeking the amendment.

The same petition was submitted last year without much luck, Town Manager Neil Harrington said. But he said this year, other communities have sent the same petition to the Legislature, and Harrington’s hoping there’ll be strength in numbers.

“Last year, the bill went nowhere,” Harrington said. “It got a public hearing and then it died. Now, we have about half a dozen others, and we’re hoping to gain more strength and get our voices heard on Beacon Hill.”

Communities that do not have at least 10 percent of their housing inventory in the state’s low- to moderate-income range cannot reject developers who want to site large, 40B housing projects in their communities.

Because the state doesn’t consider mobile homes as permanent housing, it does not allow communities to count them in their inventory of affordable housing.

As a result, Salisbury has been the site of about four 40B housing projects, which can ignore the town’s zoning regulations and build dense subdivisions on small parcels of land because of the power afforded by the Chapter 40B affordable housing law.

Salisbury has long argued that if its mobile home units were counted as part of the town’s affordable dwellings, it would more than meet the state’s requirement of having at least 10 percent of its domiciles in the affordable category. Once a community meets the 10 percent threshold, it can turn away developers who want to build 40B subdivisions, something most in Salisbury think is a good idea.

Attempts to alter the 40B regulations on a statewide basis have failed in recent years. But Harrington said when other communities heard of Salisbury’s efforts last year, he started getting phone calls. Officials in Danvers and Peabody asked for copies of the town’s petition and sent in their own versions, with other communities joining in as well, he said.

Town Meeting last night also approved all fund transfers requested on the warrant, most of which were from this year’s $436,633 free cash account, which is money left unspent from last year’s budget. The free cash transfers will cover purchases and repairs to town equipment; funding of approved labor contracts, employee training and consultants’ fees; as well as a $58,000 deposit into the town’s stabilization, or rainy-day, fund.

Even with the $336,200 in approved transfers from free cash, Harrington said there’ll still be more than $100,000 left in the account.

Town Meeting also voted to indefinitely postpone a citizens’ petition that would change the way the town bills for sewer usage. According to Salisbury Town Counsel Thomas McEnaney of Kopelman and Paige, the language in the petition was faulty. McEnaney said in Salisbury, the Board of Selectmen has the authority to act as the town’s Sewer Commission and set rates.

In addition, he said, because the wording of the petition didn’t stipulate which town bylaw it was meant to amend and how it would specifically change it, even if it was approved, it would not have mandated the change it sought.