NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

July 19, 2013

MBTA land project welcomed

Councilors hoping complex includes affordable housing units

BY DYKE HENDRICKSON
STAFF WRITER

---- — NEWBURYPORT — Municipal leaders reacted with cautious optimism regarding an announcement this week that MINCO Development Corp. seems to have won a competitive contract to build 67 apartment units on 11.1 acres near the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority train station.

If the plan is implemented, the project would be the largest home-building initiative here in at least a decade, city officials say.

“We need to learn more, but that is one of the last parcels in the city for major construction,” said City Councilor Barry Connell, who is chairman of the Neighborhoods and City Services Committee of the council. “A mixed-use plan would be interesting, and we’d like to see affordable housing emerge in this complex.”

MINCO, with offices in North Andover and Newburyport, bid $1.431 million for the land, which borders Boston Way and Parker Street near the MBTA train station.

If built, the complex could fit into what some municipal leaders hope will be a “smart residential growth district.” Planners at City Hall have envisioned housing, retail and transportation opportunities in that area.

City officials say the bid will likely be finalized within several weeks. Statutes require the MBTA to accept the highest bid, and MINCO was the highest of two bidders.

Municipal leaders plan to work with construction managers so that some units are built as “affordable housing.”

Though most city officials haven’t seen details of the MINCO proposal, city councilors including Connell, Tom Jones and Tom O’Brien have noted that providing affordable housing is a priority.

MINCO officials say that their planning takes into consideration the desire for affordable housing, and perhaps 10 percent of the units will be for those with “modest” incomes.

If that were the case, applicants must meet maximum income limits set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Income limits used for the recent marketing of an affordable unit here were as follows: one person household, $47,150; two-person household, $53,900; three-person household, $60,650; and four-person household, $67,350.

Mayor Donna Holaday was not available this week to comment on the proposed apartment complex.

On the topic of affordable housing, Holaday recently said, “We want more rental units; we want seniors and in-laws and our children to be able to live here ... An increase in the number of affordable units will provide more diversity regarding the kind of residents we have here.”

Holaday said her team is investigating sites for creating more rental units. City officials will investigate whether the Brown School, when closed, can host rental units, she said.

City officials appeared pleased that the empty acreage near the train station will be built upon, but the construction would be represent another project to impact high-traffic areas in the city.

Lane disruption is beginning near the I-95 bridge due to the rebuilding project there, and the roundabout at the intersection of Spofford and Merrimac streets (adjacent to the Hines Bridge) won’t be finished until spring, municipal leaders say.

The apartment project on MBTA land is adjacent to the busy rotary on Route 1, and construction would have the potential to slow traffic there as well.