HARVARD -- The Chelmsford Housing Authority development team working on the Great Elms affordable housing project recently updated selectmen on its progress.

When the nine-unit affordable rental complex is complete, five apartment buildings will stand on the 5.3- acre site on Stow Road, currently owned by the Conservation Trust.

With similarly-styled exteriors designed to echo the property's historic use and fit into the town's rural-residential character, the buildings will be divided into rental units of various sizes, ranging from a one-bedroom efficiency apartment in a former carriage house to two- and three-bedroom apartments in the restored farm house.

Both buildings housed apartments in the past and will be completely renovated, inside and out, with new facades and fixtures and interiors reconfigured to fit the new plan.

CHA Executive Director David Hedison said the plan was designed to fit the neighborhood and the budget, hopefully with $150,000 in matching funds from the Harvard Affordable Housing Trust, an amount equal to five percent of the total cost.

Hedison said an anticipated letter from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) would soon confirm its status as a so-called "40B" project under a state law allowing developers to bypass some local zoning if a certain percentage of units in the proposed development are priced as "affordable" based on regional income standards. In this instance, all nine units are affordable and will count toward the town's state-mandated percentage of affordable housing units.

With a 40B designation in hand, the developer then has 30 days in which to gather public input on site eligibility and take its presentation to the Zoning Board of Appeals, Hedison said, hopefully, he said, by mid January or early February.

The developer's attorney, Doug Deschenes, of the Westford-based law firm Deschenes and Farrell, said that unlike most 40B projects, only one zoning waiver will be required to allow multiple, multi-unit buildings on a single lot.

The farmhouse is "pre-existing and nonconforming," under town bylaws because it's close to the road, he said, but the project meets "all other zoning criteria," including dimensions and setbacks.

Although the initial project proposal came in with visionary goals, the design the team is working with now came from abutters meetings and other public input, members said.

Deschenes said the design incorporates "clear messages we got" from those meetings.

The property includes two parcels of land located on both sides of the road, one consisting of 1.3 acres and the other of 4 acres and there are two on-site wells. The plan calls for renovating the carriage house, close to the town right of way, and to remove the barn from the site.

"We're negotiating" with a group interested in acquiring the barn, which would include the hefty cost of removal, he said.

In all, the nine units will contain a total of 17 bedrooms, he said, with appropriate parking spaces based on those numbers.

Everything seems to be in synch so far, but Hedison said selectmen could expect to hear from one neighbor who is not pleased with the project. Although most abutters they worked with "seem happy with the plan as presented," one "nondirect abutter" is not.

Asked about local preference for the units, Hedison said state statute sets a benchmark of 70 percent or six of the nine units.

"Is this (also) a LIP project?" Selectman Lucy Wallace asked, in which case selectmen would have more say. Hedison said no, citing time and cost constraints. "We're working under pressure," he said, with just six months to move forward after ZBA approval. 

If all goes well, CHA is looking for a spring, 2015, start-up, or maybe late fall of 2014, Hedison said.