WINCHESTER - Thanks to the assistance of Francis Goyes from MassHousing, along with Jennifer Goldson from JM Goldson, and members of the town’s Working Group - Town Manager Lisa Wong, Select Board members Michael Bettencourt and Jacqueline Welch, Planning Board member Heather Hannon, Historical Commission Chair Jack LeManager, Housing Partnership Board members John Suhrbier and Marty Lee Jones, resident Jamie Devol, Town Planner Brian Szekely, Town Engineer Beth Rudolph, and Special Project Manager Meg White - the town has completed the Request for Proposals (RFPP) for the Waterfield Lot (adjacent to the Winchester Center Commuter Rail Station).

The timeline involves the town sending out the RFP to bidders next week, closing the RFP process by Aug. 31, evaluating bids in September and October, and finally recommending a developer for fall Town Meeting approval. This process mirrors what the town did for the Wright-Locke Farm in terms of eventually settling on one candidate for Town Meeting approval.

However, expect a slight change in the overall process, as the Select Board chose to evaluate the bids and not convene a subcommittee or separate committee to do the evaluations. Instead, once the board receives all the bids and narrows it down to a final three or whatever number they choose, then various stakeholder groups, other committees and residents can weigh in and offer opinions and advice.

Request for Qualifications

Before the board submits the RFP, they submitted an RFQ so potential developers could submit their qualifications and the board could discover if “developers are who you want them to be,” said Goyes. She called the RFQ process the “first round of matchmaking,” sort of like giving out roses on the Batchelor. The town needs to know a little about the developers to decide who gets to move on to the next phase.

The town launched the RFQ last year and reviewed it this past January before moving on to the RFP phase. Once again, Goldson helped develop the RFQ as she did for the RFP, with input from the Select Board, Planning Board, Town Manager, Planning Department, and Engineering Department.

Goyes laid out the RFQ criteria, such as developers having experience with downtown development, having the financial capability to complete the project, having local experience, using local partnerships, having quality design plans, and offering a project that would be environmentally sustainable.

Nine developers responded to the RFQ including CIVICO, Diamond Sinacori and Urban Spaces, Just-A-Start, MANZO, Mary McKenna & Associates, MPZ Development and Capstone Communities Development, NOAH, Pennrose, and WinnDevelopment. Only Mary McKenna & Associates failed to move on to the RFP process.

Goyes said a majority of the above-mentioned developers primarily work in 100 percent affordable housing, which the town seeks as it aims to remain in “safe harbor status” by creating more affordable units each year. The town reached safe harbor by creating 79 units; therefore, it has two years, until March 2022, where it can reject any unwanted 40B projects.

RFP process

Goyes, Goldson and the town structured the RFP so it breaks down into three categories: background information, request for proposals and submission requirements.

Background information involves community characteristics, redevelopment objectives, phasing and timing, site details and constraints, zoning summary, and selection process.

Request for Proposals involves contact information, RFP availability, question period, pre-submission meeting, liability and revisions, and response date/format.

Submission requirements involve statement of understanding, concept narrative/drawings, team description/experience, financing/financial capacity, land acquisition/zoning, marketing and management, and implementation plan/timeline.

RFP objectives include mixed-income housing with a preference toward retail housing, creating a majority of the units for those making 30 - 120 percent of Area Median Income with 25 percent of those units deemed affordable, and having 10 percent of the units include three bedrooms.

Goyes noted they prefer developers create 100 percent of the units for affordability.

Design guidelines include integration with the neighborhood, consideration of size and scale and public amenities and access for neighboring businesses. And the plan should minimize, if not eliminate, the use of fossil fuels.

Goyes outlined the evaluation criteria the board will use when deciding which number of proposals to open up for public comment. They are: provide all the information described in the RFP, have a minimum of five years experience with affordable housing (Goyes said affordable housing and market rate housing are too completely different things), have a track record of at least three projects of similar scope, demonstrate the financial capability to develop the project, and make at least 25 percent (100 percent preferred) of the units affordable.

Site issues and housing needs

Overall, the site, as Goyes noted, has its pros and cons. The Waterfield Lot sits adjacent to the Winchester Center Commuter Rail Station; however, issues include the future MBTA construction work, a legally abandoned section of track (PanAm), an easement in the northwest corner (private Waterfield Realty Trust) that limits access, an MWRA easement for a sewer line, a five foot elevation change, and a possible water table issue.

Even though the town reached safe harbor status through its Housing Production Plan, it still needs more affordable housing. 3.1 percent of housing units in town are considered affordable to those making 80 percent of the Area Median Income.

The town also needs housing for its aging senior population who want to remain in town but can no longer afford to live in the big, family home. The median price of a home in Winchester stands at $1.3M and Goyes said 58.5 percent of single seniors in town are considered low-income.

This process should create, according to Goyes, a greater diversity of housing types (seniors, younger households and small households including families), increase the supply of housing in the Smart Growth locations (near mixed-use centers and transit, increase walkability, community vitality, and economic opportunities), commit suitable public land for housing (issue RFP to address community concerns), and engage and partner with housing developers.

Evaluation criteria

Goyes outlined the 12 criteria points, which are graded on a scale of 1 - 3 with 3 being the most a developer could do and 1 being the least. Each criteria point then gets multiplied by either 4, 3, 2, or 1 depending on its importance. For example: if the development meets the town’s affordability objectives that criteria would be multiplied by 4, meaning if a developer proposed the best plan (possibly one that included 100 percent affordable units), he or she would receive 3 points multiplied by 4 for a total of 12 points for that one criteria.

Other criteria points include:

• concept narrative and drawings are a thoughtful consideration of site and appropriate in scale and style (3x)

• site layout integrates with streetscape (3x)

• meet sustainability objectives (3x)

• sufficient parking (2x)

• work with community (2x)

• enhance the cultural district (2x)

• identify anticipated traffic mitigation measures (2x)

• outline proposed key terms of land disposition (1x)

• include pre-development timeline (1x)

• details on property management approach (1x)

• specifies how noise, traffic and construction debris will be mitigated during the phase (1x)

Moving forward

Select Board member Mariano Goluboff acknowledged the site “has been underused for many years” and said it “looks like everything is going well.”

At this point, Goyes asked how the town would evaluate each proposal: on their own or through an evaluation committee?

The Town Manager admitted not everyone was up to speed on the progress, especially as the coronavirus had slowed everything down. She said they plan to have a public meeting for residents, especially the Rangeley Road neighborhood who she said asked to be apart of the process.

“There will be a lot of recommendations coming,” she announced.

However, chair Michael Bettencourt warned his board not to get too overloaded with engagement. He did, though, suggest the Planning Board formally weigh-in and to make Rangeley Road a part of the next process. He added how an evaluation committee could be an enormous help.

Bettencourt’s partner on the RFQ process, Select Board member Jacqueline Welch, agreed with having the Planning Board formally weigh-in, but she wanted to make sure any committee who evaluated the proposals knew their job entailed assisting the board and not making any decisions. In fact, when Town Planner Brian Szekely suggested an evaluation committee narrow down the number of proposals and “funnel the top three or four” to the Select Board, Welch called that “too much funneling,” saying her board could do that on their own.

“We just need their assessment, outlook,” she stressed, adding, when asked if they should score each proposal, how the Select Board just needs to know what the strong and less strong features are of each proposal. “We don’t need conclusions or numbers.”

To make things less confusing, Goluboff proposed not creating a formal committee; instead, he suggested the board do the work and then bring in the public.

“A separate committee could delay an already delayed project,” he opined. “Maybe it’s not necessary.”

Select Board member Amy Shapiro agreed, adding that her board should use the scoring mechanism to pick a top three, then use feedback form public hearings to narrow it down to the best proposal.

“Don’t make this process cumbersome,” she remarked. “We don’t need a committee.”

While Szekely noted these types of projects typically receive evaluation by staff and the chairs of various boards and committees, he had no problem with the Select Board assuming that role so long as they made it clear to developers in the RFP they were going to be the evaluating committee.

Bettencourt agreed, saying “developers must know who is making the decision.”

Goyes added how the process must be transparent or the town could face possible lawsuits. But she supported the Select Board’s decision to take control of the evaluation process.

‘You made the right choice,” she pressed.” Involving a lot of people early on takes longer.”

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