The Provincetown Planning Board is considering a proposed housing project at 22 Nelson Ave. This project represents an inflection point for the Inclusionary Bylaw and for the ability of the town to meet its housing goals.
The property at 22 Nelson is within the Residential 3 Zone, a multifamily housing district that allows up to 20 units per acre. The Nelson Avenue area is not the suburbs of Provincetown. It is a thriving year-round neighborhood with a mix of single-family and multifamily developments.
These are the relevant facts:
The 22 Nelson Ave. proposal comprises 25,353 square feet with 12 units, with the required two affordable units (16.67 percent affordable), consistent with the Inclusionary Bylaw.
The site has a by-right density of 13 units and therefore this proposal does not call for a density bonus.
The project does not need any of the development incentives built into the zoning bylaw except for a waiver of the number of buildings, because the project consists of several duplex units rather than apartment-style units.
It meets the parking requirement and all other development standards.
The proposal maintains appropriate setbacks from adjacent neighbors.
Despite these facts, the planning board is struggling to support this project and is considering reducing the number of units because of opposition from abutters. This would not be the first time the planning board has responded to abutter complaints by reducing the number of units requested in an inclusionary project.
It makes no sense for the town to invest in drafting regulations to incentivize the creation of inclusionary housing if the planning board won’t embrace projects that fully comply with our zoning bylaws. If the planning board thinks the proposed development is too dense, then perhaps the property should be rezoned.
Much of the opposition is coming from residents of the Seashore Park Drive community, a development of 34 units with a density of 17 units per acre, slightly less than the proposed development. Abutter concerns about density, traffic, inappropriate open space, setbacks, and parking are not consistent with their own development patterns. The only difference between the two developments is that Seashore Park Drive exists. It was built in the 1990s. Since then, 22 Nelson has remained a wooded lot. But the property is zoned residential, not open space. In fact, the open space committee evaluated the lot and did not consider it to be significant enough for purchase.
There are few vacant, developable properties left in Provincetown. If the planning board continues to let opportunities for housing slip by based on NIMBY sentiments, then the town will not be able to meet its housing goals. If this property is not appropriate for housing development that is consistent with the zoning bylaw, then how can we expect other neighborhoods to absorb allowably dense developments in the future?
Since the creation of the Inclusionary Bylaw, the planning board has allowed the density bonus to be applied only once, and even in that project the board reduced the number of units. The planning board has consistently demonstrated difficulty in stretching the limits of zoning to create or incentivize housing. There seems to be a disconnect between the board and its own bylaw and our town-wide goals.
As town manager, I know these decisions are never easy, and I know our volunteer board members often find themselves on the front lines of these debates. While one project alone will not dictate the future, we will meet our town’s goals one project at a time. It’s decisions like these that will inform our trajectory and our willingness to chart a bold path forward.
Alex Morse is Provincetown’s town manager.