Developer willing to move in case a build moratorium is introduced

The gray building on the left is the rooms motel at 2 Winter St. The red house is the two-family house at 4 Winter St.

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IPSWICH – A developer has told a city committee he is eager to advance construction plans for a multi-family development in case a building moratorium is introduced.

Appearing at the Zoning Appeal Board (ZBA) last week, local residents and developers Roger LeBlanc and Sarah Winderlin applied to build a mix of 17 efficiency units, apartments and townhouses at 2-4 Winter Street (map below).

The property is 0.88 acres in size and is within the industrial zoning district, according to city records.

Under the plans, four units would be set aside as affordable for people earning 50% or less of the region’s median income. Since the apartments would be rented, all units would be added to the city’s subsidized housing stock (SHI). This is the official list maintained by the state. If 10% of a city’s housing stock is on the SHI, it is immune to 40B applications.

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LeBlanc and Winderlin’s plan is to turn a former 11-unit motel into efficiency units and add two one-bedroom apartments at 2 Winter Street.

They also applied to build four townhouses at 4 Winter Street, which burned down in April 2020. The redevelopment and reconstruction application was submitted by Kevin Babineau in June 2021. However, he signed an agreement to purchase and sales with LeBlanc in December, who took over the application.

But ZBA member Benjamin Fierro noted that previous hearings had all been about a two-family apartment building at number 4.

While LeBlanc argued that the legal opinions were “silent” on how many units would be at number 4, Fierro said, “The current legal opinion is inadequate.” He suggested LeBlanc file a new application.

Fierro acknowledged that the original legal notice was silent on the number of units, but he warned: “It is possible that a goalscorer could challenge this if he felt that the notice was not sufficient. ”

Need a new opinion?

“What they heard was a discussion about a two-family house,” he added.

President Robert Gambale accepted. “Sometimes it’s better to wait 30 days and advertise properly than to wait two years in court with some sort of appeal,” he said.

He suggests that LeBlanc re-advertise so neighbors can check out the new plans for 4 Winter Street.

“If I was going to play, I would say most likely…there could be a citizens’ petition for a moratorium on construction,” LeBlanc replied.

Architect’s renderings of new buildings

He said restarting the project would take a months-long review process, by which time the May town meeting could have adopted a moratorium. “There are a lot of feelings against development,” he added.

“Once the legal notice came out, we were dead in the water,” LeBlanc said.

He asked the ZBA to continue with the two-family plan for Number 4, and said he would then request an edit and re-advertisement for four units. It would be “only two units that I can’t build, compared to the whole project,” he noted. “A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush. There is no doubt about it.

After reviewing parking, design and other issues, council granted approval for 13 units at Number 2 and an extension to rebuild the two-unit building destroyed by fire at Number 4. LeBlanc said that he would reapply to make it a four-unit building.

If all 17 units were allowed, LeBlanc said a total of four units would be reserved as affordable.

Accommodation needed

Fierro noted the increased need for affordable housing, saying the project was “very interesting” and “well designed”.

“I think a lot of people in Ipswich don’t realize we have more economic diversity than they realize,” he said.

LeBlanc, who already owns and operates a number of properties in the city, including the Whittier Motel and Rosewood Drive, said the Winter Street development will be more like Whittier.

He said affordable units cost $950 a month, including utilities and internet. “It’s a reasonable rent in today’s market, and there’s a huge demand,” he said.

Rents are indexed to median incomes by area (AMI) calculated by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Site map for the proposal

A family of four at 50% CHI would have an annual income of $67,100. A single person’s income would be $47,000 according to HUD criteria. The process of adding housing to the SHI could take up to a year and involves a lottery system if the number of applicants exceeds the number of affordable units on offer.

Not a fancy motel

Gambale said, “I think the project is commendable.” He remembered arson from his time in the fire department and felt that some of the old units were unsafe. He said he’s seen motel rooms, for example, where the only exit windows have air conditioners.

LeBlanc and Winderlin’s design showed larger windows and compliance with modern fire codes.

LeBlanc said the property has been in the Babineau family for about 100 years and they were able to provide a history of its use.

Number 2 has always been a motel, he says. “It’s not a motel that people had postcards of and stuff like that. It’s always been a long-term residence,” he noted.

LeBlanc said he found evidence – such as the number of electricity meters and the unusual size of the rooms – that there were four units. There is also a motel apartment at number 4. This house was later converted into a two-family residence, he said.

If he gets permission to modify the plan at number 4, he will become townhouses. However, the footprint of the building will be smaller than what currently exists, according to the plans.

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