The following column was submitted jointly by Representative Garrett Bradley and Senator Robert Hedlund in response to an opinion column written by Paul McMorrow, which appeared in the July 10, 2012 Boston Globe.
July 29, 2012
Rep. Bradley and Sen. Hedlund Defend Hingham's Affordable Housing Efforts
Columnist Paul McMorrow claimed in the Boston Globe recently that the town of Hingham "has taken the narrow view that, if it's not legally compelled by the state to permit new housing, it won't." There is no truth in this statement. Let's set the record straight.
Writing about a Chapter 40B proposal from the AvalonBay Corporation to build 177 rental units in South Hingham, McMorrow asserts: "Hingham's zoning board rejected [the] permit application" last month.
Actually, the Hingham Zoning Board of Appeals ("ZBA") did not reject the application. Instead, the ZBA followed the Department of Housing and Community Development's (DHCD) guidelines for obtaining legal verification of Hingham's stock of affordable housing, about which Hingham and DHCD disagree. This procedure temporarily suspends the application while this process is completed. Then the ZBA will resume its consideration of AvalonBay's permit application.
Not only did the ZBA not reject AvalonBay's application, the ZBA publicly announced that even if it is not legally compelled to consider the project because Hingham's affordable housing inventory exceeds 10 percent, the board still wants to review the application to see if additional affordable housing can be built in the town in a manner reasonably acceptable to all sides.
And this is not unusual. Since at least 2005, Hingham has consistently maintained that its affordable housing stock exceeds 10 percent, and that the ZBA is therefore under no state requirement to approve these permits. Nevertheless, the ZBA has reviewed and approved multiple Chapter 40B projects since then.
McMorrow also states, "Like many towns, Hingham subjects large development permits to a town-meeting vote, making important projects subject to a popular referendum." This is just wrong. All permits are reviewed and granted by the Planning Board and/or Zoning Board of Appeals, as in most towns. Town meeting never votes on whether to permit specific developments.
But these inaccuracies, although they fall considerably below journalistic standards, are not the worst of it. The worst is the assumption that it would be standard procedure in Hingham to deny affordable housing projects, and that the gates are always closed to reasonable development.
Where was Mr. McMorrow's attention when Hingham granted a permit for over 400 townhomes and apartments in a very dense, mixed-use, mixed-income transit-oriented development at the Hingham Shipyard? And guess who received the permit? That's right: AvalonBay, along with three other partners. AvalonBay's component includes an apartment building with 91 units, 25 percent of them affordable, which was required by the town as a condition of approval.
So why did the Town approve AvalonBay's development in North Hingham but defer action on the project in South Hingham? It's very simple, and it has nothing to do with Hingham's commitment to affordable housing. The Hingham Shipyard is the right project in the right place. In keeping with the state's emphasis on transit-oriented development, the project is adjacent to the ferry terminal and a bus to the Red Line, and is in walking distance from the commuter rail. The Shipyard is more than twice the size of the South Hingham proposal, but it was much-needed redevelopment of a former Navy site. And there is not one detached single-family home being built there.
By contrast, there is no public transportation, not even a bus, to the site in South Hingham. Every car from that development could spill right out onto Route 3, which it abuts. Our neighbors to the north and south will not thank us for putting more vehicles on what is arguably the most congested highway in the metro area. Unlike the Shipyard, this project is the antithesis of the kind of smart-growth plan the state prioritizes in other contexts. But 40B developers have no reason to care about the adverse consequences of their projects.
Mr. McMorrow makes much of the fact that "in eight of the past 15 years, the town hasn't permitted a single new multi-family residential building." He doesn't mention (and perhaps doesn't know) that most of those buildings permitted during that time are five-to-seven story apartment buildings in a development permitted for 1725 rental units, 25 percent of which are affordable. He doesn't mention that the Hingham ZBA approved that project, one of the largest 40B projects in the state.
Progress on affordable housing in Hingham has been slow but steady. Since 2002, Hingham Town Meeting has taken fifteen separate votes on a variety of affordable housing initiatives, and approved them all. Here are just some of them: the town established an Affordable Housing Trust, designated 17 acres of town land for affordable housing, donated three lots to Habitat for Humanity (on which houses now stand), amended the zoning by-law to require affordable units in all new multi-family developments, and donated $250,000 to Mainspring/Father Bill's to help create a residence in town for homeless veterans. McMorrow's claim that the town won't approve new housing, especially affordable housing, without being forced by the state simply has no basis in reality.
But in spite of the town's efforts, market forces (the sheer demand for housing in Hingham) make it expensive and difficult to acquire and dedicate land to affordable housing.
Progress may be slow, but (contrary to popular myth) not for want of effort by the town of Hingham. Mr. McMorrow's final point was that battles between the state and the town over housing do little to change towns' attitudes about it.
A good start towards improving towns' attitudes might be to provide publicity, support, and encouragement for good work being done, rather than perpetuating myths and untruths damaging to a town's reputation.