A national developer is proposing to build a 236-unit affordable housing project on land next to the Abington commuter rail station.
Wood Partners has filed a comprehensive permit application, known as a 40B, to build on the 9-acre lot located between the station and Summer Street.
A separate development company had proposed a 156-unit residential project for the site but ultimately pulled it in November after mounting opposition from neighbors and growing concerns among the Planning Board.
The proposed 40B would consist of three 4-story buildings, with a mix of 1,2, and 3 bedroom units. There would be 29 private parking garages and 333 paved spaces. According to documents filed with MassHousing, the development would feature “a robust amenity package” for residents including a pool, fitness center, courtyards, grilling stations, and a fire pit. The affordable units would rent between $1,429 per month for a 1-bedroom and $1,980 per month for a 3-bedroom.
Jim Lambert, a managing partner at Wood Partners, declined to comment.
The state’s 40B program allows developers to ignore local zoning and permitting standards in exchange for making 25 percent of the units affordable for those making under 80 percent of the median regional income.
Municipalities are allowed to deny 40B projects if at least 10 percent of their housing stock is considered “affordable” by state guidelines. The affordable units also have to receive some sort of state subsidy. Cheap apartments, small starter homes, even mobile homes do not qualify as affordable housing because they are subject to market price fluctuations.
Abington’s affordable housing stock is currently about a dozen units shy of the 10 percent threshold.
If approved, the project, which is being called Alta Abington Station, could be the third 40B project located in the Summer Street area. The 192-unit Woodlands at Abington Station development opened in 2003. Developer Glenn LaPointe received a comprehensive permit in 2019 to build 144-units of age-restricted housing off Plymouth Street. That project would back up to the Abington Senior Center, which is located on Summer Street.
Weymouth-based Karsten Company spent more than a year trying to secure permits to build its project, which would have been known as Monahan Crossing, only to announce at the end of a November public hearing that it was withdrawing its application. Karsten had previously announced it would be selling the development once approved to Wood Partners, which has built more than 67,000 housing units across the country, including 3,300 units in Massachusetts. The two parties are still going through the sale. A purchase and sales agreement included within the application details an approximate $5.4 million dollar sales price, with the final number contingent on the number of units ultimately approved.
Housing developments typically need to appear before multiple municipal boards to secure all needed permits, such as the planning board, conservation commission, and possibly even the zoning board of appeals. Under state law, 40B projects receive a comprehensive permit, which includes all needed local permits, from a single review panel. In Abington, it’s been the zoning board of appeals that has traditionally issued comprehensive permits.
Current Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Andrew Levrault declined to comment on the project.
“It would not be appropriate for a board member to comment on a matter which might come before the board,” he said.
Traffic on Summer Street, which has become an increasingly popular cut through between routes 58 and 18, was a particular concern with the Monahan Crossing proposal. That project would have increased daily traffic by more than 10 percent, according to studies. Aside from growing traffic volume and speeding vehicles, the two intersections at either end of the road – Summer and Rt. 58 and Summer and Rt. 18 – have received failing or near-failing grades from traffic engineers. It’s unclear whether Alta Abington Station will include any proposed fixes. 40B projects have a strong record of success when it comes to appealing town-imposed mitigation requirements via the Housing Appeals Court.
It is also unclear how the project will be impacted by the Abington/ Rockland Joint Water Works recent freeze on new water permits.
The Monahan Crossing project had a preliminary approval letter, but would have been required by the Water Works to come back for final approval. Water Works Superintendent Joe LaPointe said the Monahan Crossing preliminary approval letter doesn’t transfer to the new project.
“The original scope of the project has changed. [With that said] I would say they would have to come back before the board for approval and that would put them under the temporary freeze the board has in place,” LaPointe said.
The state Inspector General’s Office more than a decade ago released a series of findings claiming significant fraud and abuse in the 40B program. A subsequent Senate Post Audit & OVersight Committee investigation backed up the Inspector General’s claims. In 2010, Massachusetts voters rejected an effort to repeal the law. The state has updated 40B guidelines in the years since that it says provides additional regulatory oversight for the program.
(DISCLOSURE: The author is a member of the Planning Board and was a Senate staffer on the committee that investigated 40B abuses.)