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Upcoming affordable housing for Salisbury

Occasional Observer

After many years of planning for more affordable housing, finally several projects together promising as many as 90 units of new affordable housing are planned and are likely to be realized in the next few years.

Holley Place on Route 44 just north of the old Lakeville railroad station, with 12 units, and East Railroad Street just east of LaBonne’s parking lot with 20 units and 10 additional units at Sarum Village will together add 42 units of new affordable housing to the town.

And the largest project of all, the Pope property bordered by the Rail Trail and Salmon Kill Road is now being planned to contain 48 units. All of these projects are located within easy walking distance of “downtown” Salisbury or Lakeville. The town owned Pope property flanked by the Rail Trail to the west and Salmon Kill Road to the south contains about 55 acres overall with the easternmost portion being some 42 acres of landmarked woodland; the westernmost 12 acres together with another abutting town owned parcel containing two small buildings and a community garden add up to about 19 acres of buildable land.

There has long been in the town a strong lobby for more public athletic facilities and the program for the Pope property includes additional facilities for soccer, lacrosse, pickleball, ice skating and skateboarding. While these may seem like odd bedfellows for an affordable housing project, the site is large enough with careful planning to accommodate both housing and the athletic facilities.

Many proponents of affordable housing believe that the N.I.M.B.Y. factor (not in my backyard) is responsible for the failure of many affordable housing projects to be realized; and to a large extent they are right. But many people (and not just architects) are turned off by the poor design and construction quality of the housing projects they see built, whether at affordable or market rate. Such projects are usually built by speculative builders for quick profit. However, most or all of these current projects will feature rental units thus avoiding the problem of spec builders who cut corners and leave the problems this creates to their buyers.

What might help persuade the average person to support significantly more affordable housing would be an unusually well designed, high quality (but not particularly expensive) example. Here are a few suggestions for making the Pope complex an even better, more likeable place: Use local builders and suppliers as much as feasible.

Although most of us in the Northwest Corner live in detatched, single family houses, they are not the best solution for a housing project. Attached housing units make more sense. They take up much less land area and save on construction cost.

Instead of fossil fuels, use solar energy for both heating and electricity. Solar keeps getting cheaper and there may also be federal and state subsidies available.

For better site planning and to avoid excessive traffic at Salmon Kill Road, provide a second egress to the site from Academy Street. The extra roadwork required at the northern end of the rail trail will be worth it.

True economy. Especially with rental units, it’s often less expensive to pay a bit more up front. For example, a plywood (now usually particle board) floor covered with synthetic carpet (emitting toxic vapors) may cost less initially than a wood floor but after several years the carpet wears out and must be replaced whereas the wood floor lasts indefinitely.

Avoid air conditioning, instead provide daylight and natural ventilation, ample insulation and other measures to control heat loss and gain. Use good quality insulating glass windows. Plant trees for future shading. Keep outdoor lighting subtle; avoiding overhead lighting as much as possible.

Except in the athletic areas avoid lawn grass as the default ground cover (wild white clover looks handsome, stays short and does not require regular mowing). Include plenty of different types of trees, shrubs and flowering perennials. This will make the outdoor spaces much more appealing and will aso attract birds, bees, and other threatened, beneficial insects. And let’s try for better architecture than we have become accustomed to in NW Corner housing projects.

Architect and landscape designer Mac Gordon lives in Lakeville.

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