Proposed Active Adult Community Hinges on Rezoning Vote
N.E. Country Club owner Rod Walkey (left) & Developer Ron Bonvie
Residents who attended an information session at Coachmen’s Lodge on Saturday, April 8, not only got a glimpse of what Ron Bonvie’s proposed active adult community would comprise, but also heard from local legend Susan Wornick (pictured above), award-winning news anchor and consumer advocate for WCVB’s NewsCenter 5 until she retired in 2014.
Wornick (pictured left) is giving her stamp of approval to Bonvie’s proposed venture. His Mashpee-based company, Bonvie Homes, has already built one such community (Southport, in Mashpee) and hopes to replicate that success here in Bellingham, on land surrounding New England Country Club (NECC). Wornick became involved because, since she was a consumer advocate for so long, people in Mashpee, where she owns property, began asking her what Southport was all about. So she “investigated” and was very impressed with what she found—so much so that she is now a paid spokesperson for Bonvie Homes.
“I spent years as a consumer reporter and advocate so that people wouldn’t get scammed; now I’m helping people safely invest their money. I met with Ron Bonvie, and I was truly impressed with his honesty—he has answers to questions—and his commitment to the community.” Wornick introduced Bonvie as someone who has become a “dear, dear friend,” and said, “Don’t be intimidated—he’s one of us.”
Bonvie began by saying that N.E. Country Club owner Rod Walkey is in somewhat dire straits. He would like to keep open the golf course that his family has owned for the past several years, but it has been a struggle of late. Both men feel that a partnership between NECC and Bonvie Homes would be the best way to accomplish that. “Something is going to go there,” Bonvie said. “What I’m proposing is an over-55 active adult community just like Southport, the one we’ve built in Mashpee over the past 20 years.”
He explained that the development would be 100% age-restricted, meaning that at least one member of each household must be over age 55 and other family members must be at least 18 years of age—a rule that they strictly enforce (yes, it’s legal). Could family members with children come to stay for, say, a month in the summer? Absolutely, and they would be welcome to enjoy all of the amenities as well, including the pool, walking trails and “pickle ball” courts.
“The plan is for the 18-hole golf course to remain open to the public,” Bonvie said. “We may amend or move holes; we may build a new club house—that will all be part of the design process.”
The Planning Board may require some screening, so the view from Paine Street probably wouldn’t change drastically, according to Bonvie. The entrance would probably be moved closer to Elbow Street for better sight distance because of the hill and the curve of the street.
Of course one of the biggest concerns is traffic impact and a study will be done, but, according to Bonvie, traffic impact would be minimal. “Because there are no children, you don’t have moms making several trips a day, dropping off and picking up kids from school, sports, and so on. At Southport, some of the residents don’t leave the community for days at a time.” (A couple in the audience from Southport confirmed his statement.)
When an audience member remarked that ANY additional traffic would have an impact, Bonvie noted that the country club received approval a long time ago to put in 200 single-family homes and that his proposed community would definitely have a much smaller impact than that of 200 single-family homes, each with an average of 2—3 children. He pointed out that his community would not require the number of services that the single-family homes would. “There won’t be an additional 150 children entering the school system. We do our own plowing, covered by condo fees. All of the units will have fire sprinklers, so the need for the fire department is minimal. As far as crime, it’s a gated community, so while we can’t say that crime will be non-existent, we can say that the occasions when a police presence would be needed are minimal.” (The couple from Mashpee again nodded their heads in agreement.) “There may be a need for an occasional ambulance, but that cost is paid for by the resident.”
When asked how many units the community would comprise, Bonvie said he wasn’t sure yet. He has not actively begun the design process because, in order for him to proceed with his proposed community, town residents must first vote on an “alternative zoning option” for that property—referred to as an “Active Adult Overlay District” (AAOD). A favorable two-thirds (2/3) majority vote on the article at Town Meeting is necessary; approval of the district would mean that the required zoning for this type of development would be an option on NECC property (age-restricted, residential housing). Then Bonvie could apply to the Planning Board for a special permit.
Bonvie pointed out that the economic infusion in taxes alone would be about $170,000, and since the demographic that would be buying his condos is the one with the most disposable income, it would also benefit local businesses. “Residents will dine out at local restaurants like this one,” he said, referring to Coachmen’s Lodge.
He estimates that the units will range in price from low to mid-$300s, and he’d like to keep the condo fees at $300-$400, which he feels is doable because residents wouldn’t be paying for the golf course—N.E. Country Club would stay a separate entity.
If the rezoning is approved and he gets the green light, Bonvie said he plans to use local contractors; local real estate agents will receive 2.5% of any sale, just for introducing a customer to the community—his own staff will actually close the sale.
According to Bonvie, if the rezoning doesn’t pass, there won’t be any hard feelings. He would not switch to affordable (40B) housing to avoid local Planning Board regulations, as some builders have been known to do. “We don’t do affordable housing. If we can’t build this, we won’t build anything [there],” he said. He is still going to build an active adult community somewhere in this area because he knows that there is a need for what he is proposing—if not in Bellingham, then in one of the surrounding towns instead.
Selectmen Chairman Mike Soter praised the builder for his proactive approach in reaching out to the community, noting that people have the chance to ask questions now in an informal setting rather than at a public hearing or town meeting.
“Not everyone feels comfortable standing up and asking questions in front of a large group of people,” he said. He closed the program by reminding everyone present that the date for the Annual Town Meeting has actually been moved to JUNE 13.