WELLFLEET — A funny thing happened when two dozen neighbors gathered on a patio here two weeks ago to talk about the affordable housing plans underway for land at the end of their road. No plans for opposition were floated. No petitions were circulated. Nobody suggested hiring a lawyer to represent the group.
Cheryl and Jeff Sacks and Marla and Kevin Rice planned the gathering that was attended by abutters and other neighbors of the 95 Lawrence Road project for which three developers’ proposals to build 46 units of affordable housing are now being considered by the town.
“The meeting was to take the temperature of how people were feeling,” Cheryl Sacks said. “It wouldn’t have been shocking to hear ‘We don’t want this.’ ”
That’s not what they heard. While some concerns were raised over design, traffic, lighting, and wastewater, most of those who came to the meeting supported the project overall, the couple said.
Also at the meeting were two members of the 95 Lawrence Road Task Force, the committee that has planned the project and will recommend a developer to the select board. [See related article on page A6.] Chair Elaine McIlroy brought summaries of the three proposals and illustrations of the building designs by the contenders — Preservation of Affordable Housing, the Community Builders, and Civico.
“The idea of having a meeting like this was to get concerns out so they could be addressed,” said Jeff Sacks, an attorney and partner in the affordable housing practice group at Nixon Peabody, a national law firm. He is also the board chair of 2Life Communities, a senior housing owner and developer based in Boston. “To me, communication and transparency are critical,” he said.
He and Cheryl have owned a home on Old Long Pond Road for 11 years and split their time between Wellfleet and Newton.
Most of their neighbors are year-rounders, said Jeff.
“I get that everybody is worried about their property, but I don’t think affordable housing has to be bad for one’s property,” Cheryl said.
Neighbor David Simpson, who lives at the bottom of the hill on which the development will be built, supports the project and attended the neighborhood meeting. “We know how acute the need is for affordable housing,” said Simpson, who moved to town in 2019. “One of the reasons we bought the house was we wanted to be part of a community willing to take a relatively big swing at a big problem.”
While the Lawrence Road project would be the largest affordable complex ever built in Wellfleet, it won’t get the town to the 10-percent goal established by the state. The town currently has only 38 units of officially designated affordable housing, which is 2.5 percent of its total housing stock.
Simpson is confident that issues like traffic will be dealt with, and that the town has addressed wastewater treatment concerns. “It seems a lot of proactive effort was made, and the system will even reduce nitrogen loading,” he said.
“If they do this well, they can build a ‘Yes, in my back yard’ development,” Simpson said. “It’s got to go somewhere, unless we want to live in a resort community filled with wealthy white people,” which, he added, “is impoverishing in important ways.”
Dana LeWinter, municipal engagement director for the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA), which advocates Commonwealth-wide for the production and preservation of housing that is affordable for low- and moderate-income people, said she’s aware of the critical need for housing on Cape Cod.
“It’s been shown more people get engaged when they’re opposed to a project, so it’s exciting to see communities coming together to speak about the positive aspects of affordable housing,” LeWinter said.
Abutter Lori Freedman, who has lived seasonally in Wellfleet for six decades, conceded she has concerns, but she said they are trumped by the need for affordable housing.
“If Wellfleet is going to survive and thrive and continue to be the place I’ve always loved, it cannot turn into a ghost town,” Freedman said in an email. Wellfleet “must have housing that is affordable for local workers and young families,” she wrote.
“My concern with this project,” Freedman continued, “is how to be the best neighbors we can be, while protecting the privacy, peacefulness, and environmental soundness of my little piece of paradise.”
As a close abutter, Freedman wants issues like light pollution addressed during permitting. She also has environmental concerns. “They are going to have to take down a lot more trees than the footprint to get the equipment through for construction,” she said. “What’s the plan to restore the natural environment?”
Tree removal can also cause stormwater runoff and the potential for flooding, she said. She is expecting that to be dealt with during permitting.
Kevin Rice, the former chair of the Wellfleet-Truro Creative Housing Partnership, is a neighbor of the target site and an enthusiastic supporter. Rice is also the executive artistic director at Payomet Performing Arts Center in Truro, where he was reached by text message. He called the plans for 95 Lawrence Road “30 years overdue.”
“This will be a welcome addition to our neighborhood,” he wrote. “And done right, it will make for a healthier Wellfleet heading into the future.”