SWANZEY — The Walpole-based developer with plans to create 84 units of workforce housing on Route 10 is going forward with that project, despite concerns over the cost of sloped roofs that local officials have required for the new buildings.
Avanru Development Group recently kicked off efforts to finance the apartment complex, which is estimated at $24 million, the company’s president and CEO, Jack Franks, said Thursday.
Franks had told The Sentinel previously that plans for the development — a pair of three-story buildings, each with 42 units to be offered at affordable rates, on a vacant lot near Gomarlo’s Supermarket — were “on standstill” over the demand for sloped, or pitched, roofs, which he said would cost an extra $1 million. Avanru’s initial proposal had included flat roofs, but Swanzey’s planning board opted in May to require the pitched roofs, citing similar designs on nearby buildings.
The company has since determined, however, that its project is financially feasible even with the added cost, Franks said Thursday.
“It’s difficult sometimes when you’ve got a plan in place and you’re asked to retool it,” he said. “... But we’ve done that.”
Avanru hopes to move ahead with the project “as expeditiously as possible,” according to Franks. The apartments will be built through a public-private partnership, with the independent state agency N.H. Housing offering tax credits to financers, he said. Avanru, which will pay a “significant amount” of the project costs, he said, is also searching for an equity investor to back the new apartments.
After the price of lumber and other construction materials soared earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic, Franks said he hopes those costs continue falling as they have in recent months. That would help reduce the project’s $24 million price tag, he said.
Construction on the new apartments could begin early next spring, he said.
Avanru, which also owns the Abenaki Springs apartments off Route 12 in Walpole, plans to use the same accelerated building method it used at that complex for its Swanzey development, according to Franks.
Under that technique, known as modular construction, the apartment components are built at an off-site factory before being shipped out, he told The Sentinel in 2019. That helps workers erect the buildings quickly, he said at the time, comparing it to a more complex version of Legos.
The new Swanzey apartments will also include energy-efficient technology similar to what’s used at Abenaki Springs, Franks said.
A 2017 report by the Concord-based Resilient Buildings Group compared several dozen buildings in N.H. Housing’s portfolio by their energy use intensity (EUI) — a measurement of annual energy consumption, relative to total square footage — and found that Abenaki Springs ranked the lowest.
By reducing energy consumption, Franks said the apartments’ green design also lowers rental costs, noting a lack of affordable housing in the area. (Only 23 percent of two-bedroom units in Cheshire County are considered affordable to median-income renters, according to data published recently by N.H. Housing.)
“We’re very excited at the opportunity to bring a state-of-the-art facility to the Cheshire County region [and] happy that it’ll serve the needs of many people that need quality, affordable housing,” he said.
Plans for the 84-unit development nearly stalled earlier this summer, though, after Swanzey’s planning board voted unanimously to include the pitched-roof requirement in its project approval.
Franks told The Sentinel in July that the buildings’ initial design was based on plans from another developer for a four-story apartment complex on Monadnock Highway that town officials approved last year. That project, which proposed a flat roof, was “never given the same level of scrutiny” as Avanru’s proposal, he argued, accusing Swanzey officials of treating his company differently because it hopes to create workforce housing.
“They’ve placed such an onerous burden on this development and really made it difficult to move forward from a financial perspective as a result of it,” he said at the time.
Swanzey’s director of planning and economic development, Matthew Bachler, noted in July, however, that under the town’s site-plan review rules, officials can request architectural changes to ensure that new buildings are “harmonious and compatible” with the surrounding area.
“We want to make sure that new development is done appropriately and is within the context of the neighborhood it’s going in,” he said.
Town staff were “ready to work with the developer” if it wanted to proceed with the project, Bachler said at the time.
The Route 10 development has also drawn criticism from nearby residents, some of whom say it would tarnish the area’s rural character and reduce their property values.
Avanru has also proposed a 76-unit apartment building, available to seniors at affordable rates, on Old Homestead Highway (Route 32) in Swanzey, though that project has been mired in a legal battle for more than a year over the zoning board’s decision to deny it necessary approval. The N.H. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case but has not yet issued a ruling.
Franks said Thursday he would still “absolutely” move forward with that project if it’s approved.