HARVARD -- Official ribbon-cutting ceremonies took place on Wednesday, June 13, for the new Bowers Brook Apartments at 196 Ayer Road. The architect-designed project is located in the Ayer Road Village District zone in Harvard, which encouraged the development of mixed-use housing with affordable inventory.
What resulted is a mixed-use park, including retail stores and office space. At the end of the shared driveway is the 42-unit Bowers Brook building, providing housing for seniors 55 and older. There are 26 one-bedroom units and 16 two-bedroom apartment units.
The maximum rent is $965 for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,195 for a two-bedroom apartment, which includes all utilities.
Each unit comes equipped with individually controlled heat and air-conditioning, stainless steel appliances (stove, refrigerator, microwave and dishwasher), hardwood floors and handicapped accessible bathrooms and shower stalls. There is an elevator for upper-floor access, a community room, and on-site laundry facilities. Artwork from Larry Powers Gallery of Acton adorns the hallways.
There's onsite parking for residents and visitors. The development, created by Lou Russo of L.D. Russo of Harvard, is located immediately off Route 2 at exit 38B on Ayer Road in the new building located behind the Dunkin' Donuts. The building is 3 miles from the commuter rail train stop in downtown Ayer.
There was public and private financing for the project, including a $1,979,036 subsidy
The project was also made possible in part thanks to a $200,000 zero-interest loan provided by the Harvard Municipal Affordable Housing Trust.
Russo recalled his first visit to the Harvard Planning Board in October 2008. Since then, Russo has attended a steady stream of meetings with the Planning Board, Conservation Commission, Board of Health, Board of Selectmen and Building Inspector Gabe Vellante. Russo thanked local officials and Town Administrator Timothy Bragan for their assistance with the project.
"The highlight for us is getting to know our neighbors," said Russo of Chuck, Linda and Randy Yanikoski of Lancaster County Road.
The financing closing took place in March 2011. A year later, the doors opened to tenants. Russo thanked his staff for its "hard work and dedication, (which) is responsible for our timely construction."
Russo thanked the throngs of state and federal agencies, firms and individuals involved in making the project a reality, including his wife Cindy Russo, who provided both legal guidance "and unwavering support for this project."
Russo called Mort Miller of the quasi-public Harvard Municipal Affordable Housing Trust a "consistent champion of Bowers Brook." Miller said the project will "move Harvard closer to the state-mandated goal of 10 percent affordable housing."
In order to block dense Chapter 40B housing projects, Harvard must have at least 10 percent affordable housing. Currently only 5.4 percent, or 108 homes, are counted as Subsidized Housing Inventory among Harvard's 1,982 housing units counted in the 2010 U.S. Census. All 42 units will chip away at the town's affordable-housing deficit.
"So long as we make progress towards this goal, the town can be more selective," among any proposed future development, said Miller. "It's truly a win-win situation."
Miller praised Russo for overcoming "insurmountable hurdles" in untangling septic and water service issues with the site. But Miller said Russo was a local developer "with a proven record" who got the work done.
Miller said the trust made a "modest investment" in the form of the no-interest loan, which amounts to less than $5,000 per unit, yet "I heard complaints about that also." Miller expressed vindication, though, as there were 26 of the 42 units leased as of last week, with 12 more tenancies pending.
Over the 27 years that he's lived in Harvard, Miller said he'd been involved in several efforts to bring affordable housing to Harvard. "This was, in many ways, the most successful."
As the audience sat sheltered under a white tent in the front parking lot, selectman Ron Ricci joked that detail-oriented Russo planned the rainfall that day to "further enhance the lawn." Ricci said the project has been a blessing for some seniors that are downsizing and wished to remain in town, while also providing housing for new residents who wish to live near their loved ones in Harvard. "That's a good thing," said Ricci.
Ricci said he was thanked recently by a Harvard resident whose mother-in-law had just moved into a Bowers Book apartment, having relocated from Vermont. Ricci said the plaudits all belong to L.D. Russo Development Inc. "The real credit belongs to Lou and Cindy Russo... I'm not sure even Lou realized how many obstacles there was to overcome...This was a complicated project. It's not only complete, but it was completed with style. It's really something the town of Harvard can be proud to have."
State Sen. Jamie Eldridge co-chairs the joint committee for affordable housing. He said the project's roots harkened back to his first term as senator "for an idea of the breadth of this project." The DHCP funding and tax credits were well spent as the state battles "the biggest barrier to Massachusetts' economic development -- housing costs."
"I want to commend Lou and Cindy on their vision and this whole complex," said Eldridge. "It really adds a lot to Harvard and the region."
DHCD Deputy Undersecretary Arthur Jemison said "I'm a small-town Massachusetts boy myself."
"I know in a town like this, it's really a group effort," said Jemison. "We appreciate you sticking to it and bringing everyone together. This is just 42 units of the 9,000 affordable housing units that the Patrick Administration has invested in since 2007. It's a big number. We're proud of every one of them."
North Middlesex Savings Bank provided loan financing, President and CEO William Marshall said.
Russo launched the development during a time of great financial uncertainty. "Financial institutions in general, (at least) according to the media, stopped lending," Marshall said. Marshall said the Bowers Brook project "makes a statement" and flies in the face of those false assertions.
"Lou and Cindy had the economic environment necessary to follow through on a project like this," said Marshall. North Middlesex Savings Bank "continues to care for the community and has continued to lend in this environment for this area to prosper."
And loan guarantees were provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development office. USDA State Director Jonathan Healy said his agency is more than "inspecting pork bellies" and plays a hand in housing projects in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Healy called Bowers Brook "a stellar project."
The USDA provided an 80 percent guarantee behind the $3.8 million NMSB loan. Healy said "all these little pieces can fit together" to cobble financing for these projects.
The tax credits were bundled into an investment portfolio managed by Boston Capital Advisors and purchased by Berkshire Hathaway, said Russo. That came together thanks to both kismet and coffee.
Scott Arrighi, vice president of acquisitions for Boston Capital Advisors LLC said he lives in the area and hops off of Route 2 to buy coffee at Dunkin' Donuts. "Little did I know I'd be staring over the future site of Bowers Brook." Later he'd heard of the tax credit award to Russo and touched base to purchase the credits. "I'd never met him before."
Arrighi said he did initially receive some pushback to investing in Harvard's housing stock. "Harvard, Massachusetts?" Arrighi said he was queried. "You really want to put affordable housing in Harvard, Massachusetts?' We said absolutely."
Finally, Dan Barton, a principal architect at Maguel Associates located next door in the office park, said the firm was happy to play a part in the project. "It's wonderful to get to create and not have to worry about the financing." Barton said the housing is a "24/7 component that breathes life" into the complex.
Stewart Property Management operates the facility and is handling the application process. For information call 978-456-7300 or visit www.BowersBrook.com.