PROVINCETOWN — Only a week after the Nov. 9 special town meeting warrant was finalized, the planning board decided that Article 8, which would add employee housing to the town’s inclusionary zoning bylaw, needs a major overhaul. Without it, the new rule could inadvertently hinder affordable ownership, the members concluded.
The board discussed pulling the article entirely at its Oct. 13 meeting, but because that isn’t possible it will go forward with a Nov. 3 public hearing on the proposal and see if an amendment can be developed for town meeting floor.
The problem was discovered in a routine meeting between town staff and planning board Chair Dana Masterpolo. The staff had drafted Article 8 to encourage private sector developers to create workforce and seasonal housing, especially since the town itself has no money earmarked for that purpose, Assistant Town Manager David Gardner told the Independent.
Provincetown’s existing inclusionary bylaw — which uses carrots and sticks to persuade developers to include ownership properties in their projects — would be expanded under Article 8 to also offer those same incentives to projects that include employee housing.
Initially, Gardner told the planning board that, with this change, developers would likely continue to build affordable ownership units because their interest is almost always in selling their newly built units, not in running rental housing. Meanwhile, the idea was that local business owners would become more likely to build employee housing units because incentives like height or setback waivers could make some marginal projects pencil out.
The planning board had unanimously supported the measure.
At last week’s meeting, however, Masterpolo asked what might stop a developer of ownership units from choosing employee housing instead, accepting the deed restriction from town hall, and selling those units to local businesses.
Given the definitions in the bylaw, nothing would prevent that, and such units would almost certainly sell for more than the affordable ownership units that inclusionary zoning is designed to create. Without any changes, Article 8 could bring the town’s affordable ownership efforts to a halt, which was not the intent of its drafters, both Gardner and Masterpolo said.
Masterpolo said the board would try to write an amendment at its workshop on Nov. 3 that could save the measure.
“If they’re gaining access to the incentives at the same rate — 20 percent of the project’s floor area — and worker housing has fewer restrictions, they’ll always build worker housing,” Gardner said. “I still think it’s a good idea to have employee housing in the bylaw, but what is the exact rate where they both work? We should be able to find that.”
In addition to changing the percentage at which employee units can trigger incentives, Masterpolo said that the definition of employee housing needs more work.
“When something becomes an affordable unit, it goes under the purview of the town, it’s regulated, there’s a process for it,” Masterpolo said. “With this new amendment, we want to make sure that what we’re putting in place has some meaning and some boundaries to it that serve the overall goal.”
The town’s zoning bylaw currently defines “employee housing” as being living quarters for unrelated individuals on a seasonal or year-round basis and for more than one month. There are no income or owner-occupancy rules, and the clearest restriction is against short-term rentals.
“When you dive into the details, there really are some things we need to figure out,” Masterpolo said.