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Residents gathered for a community forum to share ideas for the vacant Community Center building. Photo by Leila Hawken

Sharon forum discusses future of town Community Center

SHARON — Individuals or organizations interested in imagining future uses for the now vacant Community Center building were invited to attend a noonday special meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Saturday, Sept. 9. 

About 25 residents attended the session, the beginning of a long process that will determine the future of the town-owned building at 99 North Main Street.

The sole presentation at the informational meeting was offered by the Housing Plan Steering Committee, with Bob Whelan of Habitat for Humanity speaking on behalf of the committee.

The work of the Housing Trust, Whelan said, began in 2005, dedicated to creating affordable housing and receiving what he termed “incredible support” from the community.

This past summer, Whelan said, the Housing Trust obtained the six apartments located in three buildings at 91, 93 and 95 North Main Street, adjacent to the Community Center. Those apartments represent a significant step toward achieving the goals within the town’s affordable housing plan that calls for 10% of the town’s housing opportunities to be affordable.

Whelan reported that the town’s affordable housing stock stands at 3.5%, or 36 units, so that adding the six units is a substantial improvement.

“It was clear that the community needed more rental options,” Whelan said, noting that Habitat for Humanity projects involve affordable home purchase options.

The plan offered by the Housing Steering Committee would convert the Community Center into four rental apartments, making a total of ten apartments within the four neighboring buildings, all with the convenience of being located steps from the Sharon Center School.

Describing it as an “incredible opportunity,” Whelan explained that the concept is that each of the four apartments of 750 square feet would contain two bedrooms, one bath and combination living-dining area. An enclosed staircase in the rear and rear patio would mean that the building would be unchanged from the present street view. The staircase would be the only change to the building’s footprint.

Because the building is 3,000 square feet in size, it would not need to be ADA-compliant, although the first-floor apartments could be designed to be comfortable for handicapped tenants.

Selectman Casey Flanagan asked about costs. Whelan replied that renovation costs have not yet been determined, nor has funding been identified.

Flanagan initiated a discussion about who might benefit from living in the Community Center apartments, feeling that the building had been given to the town and should house local workers and residents. 

As for the six apartments in the other three buildings, Whelan said that the Housing Trust is developing relationships with state government agencies.

“We will never own 99,” Whelan said. “It would have to be a long-term lease with the town.”

Selectman Dale Jones raised the issue of parking limitations at 99 that would need to be resolved. The lot size is one-quarter of an acre.

“We need to work out the logistics and how we get there,” Jones said, noting that the building appearance would remain the same.

Whelan added that the Historic Commission has indicated their support for the idea.

One resident asked whether there were any alternative proposals from those attending the meeting, but no one responded.

The Board of Selectmen plan to continue discussion at their next meeting scheduled for Friday, Sept. 15, beginning at 3 p.m. If agreed, the proposal would be sent to the Planning and Zoning Commission to determine compliance with the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD). Following that determination, a town meeting would be scheduled.

“We’re trying to create a gem right in the center of town,” said resident Tom Bartram.

Residents are encouraged to contact the Housing Trust at www.shtct.org to ask questions or express opinions, Whelan said.

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