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Affordability Key to Village Hill Senior Housing in Northampton, Plans Say

September 12, 2012 : Daily Hampshire Gazette, by Dylan Peers McCoy

NORTHAMPTON - Plans for an assisted living facility at Village Hill Northampton received largely positive feedback at a public meeting Tuesday night at the Senior Center.

Mayor David J. Narkewicz introduced the Grantham Group, the proposed developer of the site, to the more than 20 community members and officials at the meeting.

"Their ... facilities, I think will be a really great fit for Village Hill," Narkewicz said. In "the original master plan, and all the following iterations of the master plan, we've always had assisted living as one of the uses there."

The proposed community would combine market-rate and low-income senior assisted living housing. It would also include common areas that would be open to other residents of Village Hill.

Of the 83 assisted living units in the community, 43 would be designated low-income. To qualify for below market rate housing, a resident's income must be less than 60 percent of the median income for the area.

In presenting the project, Walter Ohanian, managing director of the Grantham Group, emphasized the company's commitment to low-income housing. Part of "the beauty of it is the fact that we have mixed income," he said.

Like many of the residents at the meeting, Peggy MacLeod of Florence was supportive of the low-income component to the project.

"I like the affordable part of it. That's extremely important because I've seen the costs in the facilities my mother's been in, so I know everyone can't really go there. So this is nice for Northampton," she said.

The Grantham Group runs several similar communities across Massachusetts under the name Christopher Heights. The other properties are in Attleboro, Marlborough, Webster and Worcester, and also offer mixed-income assisted living.

The group is able to offer affordable assisted living by taking advantage of federal low-income housing tax credits, according to Ohanian. The group would expect to receive close to $500,000 in tax credits at this property, which would offset the cost of construction.

The design and construction plans for the project were another focus of the meeting. Gregory Walsh of Potomac Capital Advisors, a construction consultant on the project, said the design aimed "to blend in with" the neighborhood while introducing some "New England characteristics."

While the plans are not fully developed, Walsh said they were hoping to incorporate sustainable features into the design.

"We are targeting to be at least LEED-certified and possibly LEED silver," he said, referring to sustainable building standards developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Environmentally friendly features Walsh suggested are likely to include co-generation - a process that uses heat captured from electricity production to produce hot water - and a rainwater harvesting system.

The environmental impact, like all the plans discussed at the meeting, remains uncertain because the project is in the initial phase of development and has not yet been approved or financed.

Before development begins, the Grantham Group must present its plans for a site plan review before the Northampton Planning Board. The meeting is scheduled for Oct. 11 at 7 p.m.

If the board approves and the Grantham Group is successful in its tax credit application, the developer hopes to break ground on the project in March or April of 2013 and open the facility by the spring of 2014.

© Copyright 2012 Daily Hampshire Gazette.