The Bennington Area Affiliate of Habitat for Humanity - which is leading the project - has proposed to increase the size of homes being built on Jennifer Lane. This, however, has raised concerns among some residents of the neighborhood.
Habitat for Humanity received the necessary permits to build 22 homes on Jennifer Lane in 2009 and 2010. Work on the project began last October with the first home being dedicated in early May.
According to District Coordinator for the District Environmental Commission 8 Warren Foster, Habitat for Humanity was originally approved to build 22 homes up to 1,100 square-feet in size. They are now seeking an amendment that would allow for some of the homes that would be built to range from 625 to 1,200 square feet. Each of them could potentially have an additional 300 square-foot garage depending on the space available on the lot, Foster said.
Additionally, Foster said that the permitted number of bedrooms would increase from a maximum of three to four if the amendment is approved.
The project as a whole has caused some residents of the neighborhood to not only express concerns, but displeasure with the project as well - something that existed prior to Habitat's application for the amendment.
"The original size
Vermont Traditional Builders - a company owned by Drunsic - is expected to build up to 11 of the 22 homes on Jennifer Lane.
The homes that Drunsic's firm would be building - which would be sold at cost - would be larger than those built by Habitat, according to the Executive Director of the Bennington Area Habitat for Humanity, Richard Malley.
"We thought it would be very good to ... have a mixed income neighborhood" said Malley. "There needs to be a difference in the size of the homes including a garage and so we filed for an amendment for the existing permit to allow them to be a little bit larger than ours."
To be eligible for consideration, the families chosen by Habitat for Humanity to occupy one of the homes on Jennifer Lane could only earn up to about $37,000 per year, whereas the owners of the homes built by Drunsic could earn as much as $77,000 annually, he said. Malley said that he felt the homes that would be built by Vermont Traditional Builders would benefit the community.
"That income group also has a hard time finding housing in and near Manchester and you're serving a higher income level, which we thought was very positive. We have a lot of people who work in Manchester who can't afford to live here," Malley said. "Second, having more variety in the architecture of the houses; we thought would be good for the neighborhood."
The homes built by Vermont Traditional Builders will only be built if they are sold beforehand, according to Malley.
The Act 250 hearing which occurred last week was requested by Michael and Rebecca Nawrath - residents of Hillcrest Road, which is near Jennifer Lane.
Michael Nawrath expressed concerns related to the mound septic system that would be serving the homes on Jennifer Lane.
"My concern is that I am the nearest downhill property owner from the 22 unit community septic system, which is a pretty sophisticated collection and mound system, which if it fails will need to be replaced at considerable expense," said Michael Nawrath. " If it fails there won't be sufficient resources available to replace it."
Foster said that the Nawraths were pushing to have a mechanism in place that would provide adequate funding to solve any problems that may arise. Another concern expressed by Michael Nawrath, as well as Hill, was the delayed installation of a fire hydrant that was supposed to occur during an initial phase of the Jennifer Lane project.
"I'm still concerned about the town permit condition that required the hydrant to be installed before the first house was built and that didn't happen because Mr. (Lee) Krohn (Manchester Planning Director and Zoning Administrator) changed the permit unilaterally and without legal authority and never notified the interested persons that the permit had been changed," Michael Nawrath said in a later phone interview.
"We found out later it was illegal to even do that work. You can't put a fire hydrant in a four-inch water line. It's prohibited. The water and sewer superintendent and the state told us not only was it not okay to hook a hydrant up to a four-inch water line, but it's illegal," Krohn said. "The water and sewer superintendent was informed about this and he is okay with it. The fire chief was informed about it and he is okay with it. Everybody that needed to know about this was brought to the table ... and they all agreed it was sensible and lawful."
Manchester Town Manager, John O'Keefe said that a new eight-inch water main would be installed in Phase II of the project and the hydrant would be installed at that juncture.
If Habitat's application for the amendment is approved, Foster said the decision could be appealed to the Environmental Court.