December 4, 2020

New development puts affordable housing on the market in Wellesley

Zoe Gieger ’20, Web Editor-in-Chief and Isabella MacKinnon ’20, Arts Editor

Despite many limitations on normal activity due to COVID-19, the Fieldstone Way project on Great Plain Avenue in Wellesley is continuing construction, making continued progress on fourteen of their units. Photo courtesy of Peter Crabtree.

It’s easy to notice that Wellesley has a housing problem: down practically every street is one single-family home after another, and in Wellesley, that almost always means a home over a million dollars. This places limits on prospective homeowners who are young, elderly, or low-income or potential residents who are single parents or municipal workers. 

Trying to solve this undiversified housing problem has proven unsuccessful for many developers. But near the Needham town line, on a previously single-home twelve-acre lot, the Northland Residential Corporation has broken ground on a new solution to this shortage of diverse housing types named Fieldstone Way. 

In a high-income suburb like Wellesley, any proposed housing developments, especially those involving 40B (Massachusetts’ affordable housing act), often face great opposition from town residents who are concerned by the vision of an apartment complex towering over their property. However, in the case of Fieldstone Way, the developers have meticulously gone to great lengths to ensure a carefully considered design and approach to their project. Spending over $300,000 on the permits, planning, and proposals alone, Northland Residential has combed through every detail and accommodated every neighbor before even starting their construction.

Since the acquisition of the lot in December of 2014, Peter Crabtree, the senior vice president and director of acquisitions and development at Northland Residential, is in charge of a conceptual plan for construction, working with engineers and architects to secure permits from the town. 

“There were several people in the general neighborhood who challenged us during permitting, but once they understood the details of what we were proposing the pushback gradually subsided. I believe that most people in the community understand there is a dire need for affordable housing and a need for townhouse condominiums that are designed to attract households that are often referred to as ‘seniors’. Fieldstone Way was designed to help fulfill these needs,” says Crabtree. 

Fieldstone Way will consist of 44 new, condo-style units, including eleven labeled as affordable housing. Abutting an aqueduct, the development plans to create an access point as a way to provide the neighborhood with easy access to this popular walking trail as well as offering a new playground and an open green space. In Wellesley, when an old home is purchased, it is often torn down and turned into a mansion filling out the entirety of the lot, a practice called mansionization. This drives up the cost of housing astronomically, decreasing the affordability of owning a home in the town even more. Because of this trend in construction, hardly any Wellesley homes are options for those who require smaller-sized, low maintenance, or low-income friendly houses. Fieldstone way, on the other hand, will make full use of the lot for multiple affordable houses and three acres of open space in the process.

The most significant difference between the affordable and “non-affordable” units is their initial buy-in cost. For the units covered by the 40B chapter, prices range from $250,000 to $320,000, while the remaining units will cost $1,100,000 to over $2,000,000. Although the majority of the units are duplexes, with the exception of four one-bedroom carriage houses, these homes are all designed to look like single-family houses from the street view, as to mesh with the style of the surrounding community. 

Northland Residential has also respectfully integrated the affordable units amongst the market price ones for a more cohesive feeling.

“The floorplans for the affordable units are a bit different. For the most part, they’re a little smaller, which helps keep the housing costs [such as electricity and heat] a little lower. From the outside though, they blend into the overall community so that it would be difficult to know which units are affordable, and which ones aren’t,” says Crabtree. 

Northland Residential took the concerns of the neighborhood into account and adjusted plans accordingly, particularly focusing on meeting the needs of the immediate neighbors. For instance, the company redesigned its original plan for side balconies to protect the privacy of a neighbor with an outdoor pool. Wooden fences and rows of trees will provide further privacy for both the inhabitants of the units and their neighbors. One neighbor, whose property is nearest to the newly developed land, will be connected to the development’s sewer system and taken off its outdated septic system and will also be provided with tree screening. The development company will pay for both jobs, a $10,000 cost for the homeowner had it been done independently. 

The development will also plant a wide variety of trees and shrubbery that will benefit the local ecosystem and replace the 1,000 trees that were cut down to accommodate the construction. As opposed to the bare log pines which were cut down, the new trees and shrubbery will provide a much lusher variety, conducive to animals inhabiting the space.

The aim of Fieldstone Way is to provide homes to people who are already community members. The affordable houses will be awarded to teachers, single parents, police officers, firemen, and municipal workers — all integral members of the community who may not have as great an income as the typically high home prices in Wellesley require.

The state calculates that no one should spend more than thirty percent of their yearly income on housing costs. With the lowest home prices in Wellesley ranging starting $500,000, many people who work in Wellesley cannot reasonably afford to live here by the state’s model. Wellesley has tried to add an average of 34 affordable units per year but has fallen short of this quota.  

“I like the focus on smaller sized housing and the lack of affordable housing options in Wellesley. In other projects I’ve developed, when a person is given the opportunity to purchase an affordable house [or condo], I’ve seen them become incredibly emotional because they had almost given up hope on ever owning a home of their own. That type of emotion helps fuel me to create additional homes for people,” says Crabtree.

As the world grinds to a halt due to the COVID-19 virus, this construction project remains underway. “Fortunately, Governor Baker has deemed our construction of new homes an essential business, which has allowed us to continue advancing the development along,” says Crabtree. “Needless to say, we’re diligent about making sure our subcontractors take reasonable efforts to remain healthy.”

Crabtree remains optimistic that the pandemic will not negatively affect the housing development’s prospects in the market once it is completed. In fact, three sales have already been made, and the lottery for the affordable homes will still take place later this year. 

“Wellesley is such a strong housing market, and the type of townhomes we are constructing are so badly needed in Wellesley that we have little doubt that even in the midst of the current healthcare crisis, the demand for these new townhouses will be considerable,” says Crabtree.

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