PROVINCETOWN — The local housing crisis will be on the table repeatedly at the 2022 annual town meeting in a slate of warrant articles to allocate money for housing, to strengthen the town’s inclusionary bylaw, and to begin studying possible new housing sites.
The shapes of those articles were clarified at the second joint meeting of the select board, community housing council, and Year-Round Market-Rate Rental Housing Trust held on Dec. 15.
Two of the proposed articles would ask voters to start the process of turning large town-owned parcels into housing by hiring development consultants to assess the two sites: the Veterans Memorial Community Center (VMCC) and the two southern lanes of Route 6 between Conwell Street and Shank Painter Road.
The community center used to be the town’s elementary school. The building contains 46,000 square feet all on one floor and currently hosts several town departments, including the dept. of public works and the council on aging. The select board has argued that it could be replaced by a two- or three-story structure that would have town offices on the ground floor and housing above.
The two southern lanes of Route 6 to the west of the proposed housing site — that is, the section of highway between Shank Painter Road and Herring Cove — are already slated to be removed. The town owns the right-of-way underneath those lanes, but the state owns a long parallel strip of conservation land, which makes development of that area tricky.
Between Shank Painter and Conwell, however, there is no state-owned land and Provincetown owns an adjoining four-acre parcel that includes the skate park, a large parking lot, a soccer field, and a municipal wastewater leaching field. All of those uses could conceivably be relocated, according to a staff presentation to the select board in September, and the lot could be combined with the town-owned land under Route 6. That would create a developable area even larger than the land around the VMCC.
Two smaller town-owned parcels will also be up for votes at town meeting as possible housing sites: a half acre at 30 Creek Road and the old Firehouse 2 building on Commercial Street at Court Street.
Proposals to reallocate rooms tax revenues have been discussed at length at many different meetings this year. The current proposed town meeting article is unchanged and would direct 26 percent of the total rooms tax revenue to housing.
The rooms tax is a complex subject, partly because it combines a longstanding tax on hotels and guest houses and a recently enacted tax on short-term rentals.
The hotels part of the tax has for years been split four ways, with money going to the tourism fund, the sewer fund, the capital improvements fund, and the general fund. The expansion of the tax to short-term rentals took effect in July 2019, and it has dramatically increased revenue from prior levels. Before the expansion, the rooms tax brought in about $2.2 million per year; in the most recent fiscal year, receipts were up to $3.5 million.
That fiscal year, from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021, was scarred by the pandemic. Recent sales data from multiple sources show that both hotels and short-term rentals have done better in the current fiscal year than in the last one. The Independent recently examined these data and published a rooms tax forecast for Provincetown of $4.7 million for fiscal 2022.
The total number is important, because reallocating the rooms tax and carving out a portion of the money for housing requires a clear idea of the total being divided.
At the Dec. 15 joint meeting, Town Manager Alex Morse addressed the town’s current revenue forecast of $3.4 million and explained how the reallocation formula could change if revenues come in above that number.
“I want to make it very clear at the outset of this workshop — there is no effort whatsoever to underestimate what the actual receipts will be,” said Morse. “We want it to be as high as everyone thinks it may be.
“We aren’t firm at $3.4 million,” Morse added. There is a rooms tax payment from the state Dept. of Revenue due on Dec. 31, and Morse recommended that the three boards wait to see that payment before making a decision.
Morse also walked the boards through ways they could change the allocation formula if the rooms tax number is higher than forecast. At the $4 million mark, for instance, Morse showed that lower percentages would still direct adequate amounts to the other four funds — freeing up a higher percentage for housing.
The boards also discussed how to direct the incoming housing money. Members of all three boards agreed on a plan to let the select board decide each year how to divide the money between the town’s two existing housing funds: the affordable housing trust fund and the year-round market-rate rental housing trust fund.
But Wait, There’s More
Four more articles round out the housing measures being discussed.
One would add a state-authorized “community impact fee” of 3 percent to bookings of short-term rentals that are investor-owned. Despite some confusion caused by the term “professionally managed” in the statute, definitions in state law make it clear that the fee would apply to bookings of any residence whose owner has two or more short-term rental properties in the same town. It would not apply, however, to the owner’s primary residence.
Another proposal would allow accessory dwelling units (ADUs) to house seasonal workers, not just year-round residents. Very few people have built ADUs in the years since the bylaw was first passed, and the boards were divided on whether allowing seasonal workers to live in ADUs would entice more people, particularly business owners, to build them.
A third measure would increase the permissible height of residential construction in the general commercial zone, which is primarily along Shank Painter Road but also includes the northern reaches of Conwell Street. Buildings could be four rather than three stories tall. That extra story would be available only under the town’s inclusionary bylaw, which permits various bonuses and regulatory relief when affordable units make up at least one-sixth of a proposed development.
Finally, there is a proposal to revamp the “in lieu” fee structure in the inclusionary bylaw. For multi-unit residential developments that do not make one-sixth of the units affordable, the inclusionary bylaw mandates a fee in lieu of the units, to be deposited in the affordable housing trust fund.
The boards discussed three alternatives that would raise the fees to varying degrees. Three members of the select board endorsed the option labeled “most aggressive.”
“I think people get it now — they’re paying attention,” said select board chair Dave Abramson. “In other years I think it was the people selling or developing that had more control or power at town meeting. We do now have the support to be more aggressive.”