The dial may have moved slightly toward reducing pressure in Montpelier’s tight housing market. Aacred Development has been approved to develop “Stonewall Meadows Neighborhood,” a 34-parcel housing subdivision at the dead-end of Isabel Circle. The city’s development review board (DRB) approved the subdivision with some conditions at its March 20 meeting.
“We’re pretty excited and hopeful,” said Gabriel Lajeunesse, managing director of Aacred Development Holdings, LLC. “The proposal is to come in and build the road and subdivide the lots.”
The DRB’s approval means Aacred will soon be building a road and sidewalks connecting the 34 plots, assuming it gets an Act 250 permit. After that, the lots are up for sale, and buyers will build houses there. Construction on the road may begin as early as this fall, Lajeunesse said, in a “best case scenario.” But there are a few items that must be lined up first, according to the DRB’s conditional approval.
According to the minutes of the March 20 DRB meeting, Aacred must provide the city with engineer plans plus an engineer’s written statement “of no undue adverse effect from the construction on steep slopes.” Aacred also has to record documents of a newly formed homeowners association detailing how it will manage shared infrastructure; provide the city with state construction permits; and clarify with the city’s Department of Public Works “where the stormwater discharges from this project will connect with existing city stormwater catchments.”
Some parcels will be nearly an acre in size, while others are about 9,000 square feet, Lajeunesse said. Properties may be ready for construction by 2024, he noted.
Missing the Missing Middle
Originally planned to address “the missing middle” in a “cottage cluster”-style housing development, Aacred and its investors switched tacks after a neighborhood meeting and sketch review with the city’s Development Review Board last fall. After input from neighbors and the DRB, Lajeunesse said, the group opted for a more straightforward approach. Now, instead of small homes clustered together, the plan is to subdivide 34 parcels inside 20 acres in a 72-acre lot. Instead of building the cottage-style houses as originally planned, Aacred will instead sell the subdivided parcels as housing lots.
However, one thing that went missing from the original plan: the “missing middle” — people with moderate incomes who don’t qualify for affordable housing but are also priced out of the current housing market. The cost of building is just too high to create affordable housing without significant subsidies, Lajeunesse told The Bridge.
“It’s really challenging if you look at the missing middle problems that we have; people have good jobs but can’t afford to buy a home,” he said, adding, “If you’re building at $250 to $300 a square foot, for a 1,000 square foot (house), that might cost you $300,000 to build, without any profit. You are already out of reach of many people. What about if you add a 15% profit margin? Now all of a sudden … you’ve priced even more people out.”
No City Sidewalk on Isabel
Although Aacred will be building sidewalks within its development, and despite the concerns of Isabel Circle residents about increased traffic on a street with kids, pets, and walkers — the city decided not to build sidewalks on Isabel Circle. It will, however, eventually add a sidewalk on Hebert Road, which connects Isabel Circle to Berlin Street and is the only way out of the neighborhood.
“For the sidewalk piece we follow our complete streets report — and that cites average day traffic volumes (at) peak hour(s),” DPW Director Kurt Motyka said at the DRB meeting. “We just don’t know if the average daily traffic is going to hit the threshold … to trigger the need for the sidewalk along the existing Isabel Circle parcel development. The big takeaway is DPW is not going to recommend assuming ownership of the sidewalk within the new development unless there is connectivity. … We do plan to construct sidewalk along Hebert — that does meet the traffic volumes to necessitate a sidewalk.”
Fifty Acres Untouched
The development is going into an area that is currently wooded, with a small field. Lajeunesse said Aacred will be leaving the wooded area as is, except for where roads, sidewalks, and retention ponds are going. Homeowners can decide what trees to keep or not, he said, and 50 acres of woodland with informal trails currently used by local residents “will stay the way they are.”