PROVINCETOWN — A long-running effort to build affordable and community housing at the former VFW site on Jerome Smith Road received a big boost last week when the developer of the project struck a deal to purchase an adjacent half-acre parcel for $1.4 million.
According to project manager Lindsey Gael of the Community Builders (TCB), an offer letter has been signed by both the sellers, Paul and Victoria Mendes, and the developer, and the purchase and sale agreement is being drafted. Town Manager Alex Morse told the select board about the deal at their Jan. 10 meeting, and Paul Mendes confirmed the agreement to the Independent.
Acquiring the half-acre parcel at 55R Captain Bertie’s Way has long been seen as a way to expand the potential of the 1.3-acre VFW site at 3 Jerome Smith Road, which the town purchased in 2013. The town’s request for proposals to housing developers, issued last May, highlighted the potential of the smaller parcel to increase the project’s buildable area and also improve traffic flow with an extra egress.
Two of the three bidders for the VFW project included the parcel in their proposals. The Community Builders bid was for 47 units on just the VFW property, but with the extra half-acre, the number of units went up to 57. The bid from Pennrose was for 64 apartments spread across the two properties.
Shortly after the bids were submitted last July, however, 55R Captain Bertie’s Way went under contract to somebody else. TCB had been in “active negotiations” for an option to purchase the property for $1.3 million, according to the bid documents, but those negotiations had been abruptly superseded, presumably by a higher offer.
“We lost an opportunity to purchase the land adjacent to the VFW,” select board member Leslie Sandberg told her colleagues on Aug. 23. “When an opportunity like that arises, we need to move faster than we were able to,” she added.
The Community Builders amended its bid the following month, eliminating an entire building and 10 apartments. Its new, smaller bid was picked by the town manager’s review committee and approved by the select board in October.
A Second Chance
The Independent has not been able to establish the identity of the private developer who put 55R under contract last August, or the purchase price associated with that contract. Within a few months, however, something was wrong.
“A couple months in, we heard inklings that perhaps that deal might be falling apart,” said Gael. “So, we were sort of waiting in the wings. By the time we heard that this prior deal had fallen apart, we had gotten official notice from the town that we were the designated developer. Since we felt strongly this project would be moving forward, we felt comfortable purchasing it outright,” rather than attempting to negotiate another option, Gael said.
The option to purchase is a common arrangement for developers of affordable housing, according to Gael, because of the many twists and turns such projects often face. An option to purchase agreement allows the developer to lock out other buyers for a period of time, paying monthly for the privilege of doing so, but still back out in the event outside forces scuttle the project.
“What’s hard with these kinds of real estate transactions — it’s just a very unpredictable, reactive environment,” said Gael. “These sorts of situations are challenging for towns to move on quickly. Especially in this fast-moving, competitive environment, a private developer like us can just move more nimbly than a town might be able to.”
Morse told the select board that the land purchase could add a dozen or more apartments to the overall project. “I want to thank the select board for their encouragement on this property,” he said, adding that he was excited about the opportunity “to continue putting a bigger dent in the affordable housing crisis here in Provincetown.”
What Comes Next?
Gael said that TCB is already planning its first community engagement session, probably in February or March.
“We have heard there is a lot of interest in maximizing the number of affordable units,” Gael said. “You only get so many opportunities to build in Provincetown — there’s a lot of reasons to get as many affordable apartments as you can.”
But nothing is a done deal, Gael added. “I want folks to know that, for us, it all starts with what we hear from the community. We take the outreach process very seriously.”
55R Captain Bertie’s Way has been on the market for four years. Paul Mendes said he’s pleased to see that the property will support year-round workers.
“My mother ran the Long Point View guest house for 55 years, from 1946 to 2001,” Mendes said. “I grew up there. For the whole second half of that time, she was renting seasonally to working people.
“When we inherited that house, we kept it that way,” Mendes said. “That’s 74 years of continuous rentals. I think it kind of fits in with what the property is going to become.”