WELLFLEET — The largest affordable housing initiative in the town’s history reached a milestone last week with the select board’s unanimous approval on March 9 of a request for proposals (RFP) for the 46-unit 95 Lawrence Road project. Bids from potential developers are due on June 15.
With the current surge in real estate prices, progress on the development “couldn’t have come soon enough,” said board chair Michael DeVasto. “I have high hopes for this project.”
The median home value in Wellfleet is currently $644,750, up 12 percent from a year ago, according to the website Zillow.
At the same time, the board noted, the project intersects favorably with the town’s targeted watershed management plan, required for compliance with the Clean Water Act. The proposed wastewater treatment system for housing at 95 Lawrence Road would allow the town to meet both needs.
The project is planned to include at most 46 rental units, with at least half of them reserved for households making 80 percent or less of area median income in Barnstable County — which is currently $61,850 for a two-person household. The RFP notes that “the town is seeking households with income between 30 percent and 120 percent of the area median. (Even 120 percent cannot afford market rate rents in Wellfleet.)”
A December 2020 report commissioned by the town to evaluate possible wastewater systems concluded that tertiary-level treatment, which would tie in surrounding municipal buildings and residential septic systems, would be the most effective solution. The study was conducted by Onsite Engineering of Franklin and Bohler of Boston.
“The Town has determined that creating a decentralized sewer district, which will serve the affordable housing at 95 Lawrence Road, the adjacent municipal parcels and the surrounding private residential parcels is preferred,” according to the RFP. “As such, bidders … shall agree to enter into a cost sharing arrangement with the Town that allows for the development of the site while providing capital resources necessary to assist the Town with constructing the decentralized sewer district infrastructure.”
The rental housing site is directly across Lawrence Road from the Wellfleet Elementary School and just up the hill from the town’s police and fire stations.
At the comprehensive wastewater planning committee meeting, also held on March 9, Gary Sorkin, chair of the community preservation committee, brought up the Cloverleaf project in Truro, which is being challenged in court by nearby property owners claiming that wastewater will damage their own houses’ water quality. Would the proposed wastewater treatment plant at 95 Lawrence Road “eliminate the possibility of a challenge?” he asked.
“The whole purpose of this larger project was to address those water quality concerns,” replied water resources consultant Scott Horsley. The wastewater treatment plant would not only mitigate effluent from the affordable housing development but also provide a net benefit, he said. “I do a lot of expert witness work in court,” said Horsley. “I’ll take the side of the town on this one any day.
“My view, in fact, is the town should get an award for this,” added Horsley. “To provide affordable housing and cleanup of an estuary — not a lot of those around.”
Some members of the select board worried about a discrepancy in the timelines between the wastewater project and the housing construction. Elaine McIlroy, chair of both the housing authority and the 95 Lawrence Road Task Force, said the timeline for coordinating the two projects was carefully reviewed with the wastewater committee.
“I felt assured that this could work because, once the developer is selected, they have a lot of work to do, too,” she said. The task force hopes to select a developer by August 15 and have a contract signed in September.
“We trust that everybody’s full in on this and doing due diligence to allow this to happen,” said McIlroy. She said the town, the wastewater committee, and the water commissioners have all worked hard to bring the project to fruition.
The RFP was as “incredibly professional document put together by volunteers,” noted select board member Justina Carlson, who thanked the task force for its hard work. “This is Wellfleet at its finest,” she said.
“It feels fantastic to get over the hump,” Town Administrator Maria Broadbent said about the project moving forward. Before she even applied for the job, Broadbent told the Independent, she knew affordable housing was one of the key priorities for the town. “It’s really exciting stuff.”