DANVERS — The doors and windows are covered in plywood, the cement walkway has crumbled, and overgrown trees loom overhead.
The ranch house at 55 Coolidge Road, built about 1960, stands in stark contrast to the tidy homes that make up this quiet Woodvale neighborhood, just off routes 62 and 128.
A few years ago, the town took the house for back taxes, and the town now mows the lawn. But neighbors say it’s been years, even decades, since anyone has lived in it.
And this week, they told selectmen they have waited a long time for someone to do something about the abandoned property.
Selectmen took a step in that direction Tuesday night — a step that would allow a family of modest means to live in one of the most desirable neighborhoods in town. They voted unanimously to transfer the property to the Danvers Affordable Housing Trust so it can be redeveloped into an affordable, single-family home.
Selectman Bill Clark said the board had to weigh financial considerations — what the town could fetch by auctioning off the property to a private developer, versus the need for more affordable housing. Clark came down on the side of creating more affordable homes in town.
“How many of your children, if you are as old as I am, can afford to live in town?” Clark asked rhetorically.
Using money the town set aside from the redevelopment of Danvers State Hospital, the trust would pay the back taxes, about $40,000, and legal fees, about $3,500, in exchange for the property.
The trust does not intend to become a landlord or developer of property. The aim is for a nonprofit developer or agency to bid to redevelop the house, which would then be sold for a below-market rate. The goal would be to rebuild a single-family home, not a multifamily, in keeping with the character of the neighborhood.
Several neighbors, however, had questions. Who would move there, and what would be the eligibility guidelines for a family? How long would it take for the trust to write a request for a proposal, pick a developer and redevelop the property? Would a new affordable home be in character with a neighborhood where many residents have spent good money to add second and third stories on their former ranch homes?
Some neighbors said the town would make more money by selling the property to a private developer, estimating it could fetch upward of $200,000. The town has assessed the property at nearly $300,000.
“The house has probably been abandoned for 15 years,” said Amanda Tsatsis of 57 Coolidge Road, who was worried that an affordable house might negatively affect surrounding property values.
Selectman Dan Bennett, the owner/broker of a downtown real estate company, said Tsatsis’s property values are more affected by the poor condition of the neighboring house, not whether it is affordable.
“Fixing this up is only going to help your values,” Bennett said.
Nancy Purcel said she has lived at 31 Sherwood Road, not far from the vacant home, for nearly 50 years. She said she was in favor of such a project but had some questions about how a family would be selected for the new home.
“I think it’s important we look at who gets there,” Purcell said.
Members of the trust said it has not been determined what style of house might replace the one there now.
The town first moved to take the property from Robert and Mary Markley in Land Court in 2010 for nonpayment of three years’ worth of back taxes, about $11,400, said Town Clerk Joseph Collins. Collins said the town believes the couple are deceased.
As the legal proceeding went on, the nonpayment of other years of back taxes was added, and a final judgment in the tax lien case was rendered in 2012. Collins said it was a mystery why the home was abandoned. For many years, however, someone mowed the lawn, and taxes and utility bills on the property were paid.
John Alden, a member of the Affordable Housing Trust, said the trust felt the location was unique for an affordable housing project, in a neighborhood of single-family homes. However, he said it is a great neighborhood for families, given its proximity to Danvers High and Thorpe Elementary School.
Selectwoman Diane Langlais, who has lived in the Woodvale neighborhood all her life, said this is not a low-income project, but an affordable one. Families making up to 60 percent of the area’s median income, which for a family of four would be $56,640, would be eligible to apply, she said.
“It’s affordable housing for people who are struggling, who are paying as much for rent as they would a mortgage,” said former Selectman Bill Nicholson, a member of the former Affordable Housing Committee, which was disbanded with the creation of the trust.
“We do have the opportunity to open the doors of Danvers,” said Affordable Housing Trust member Charles Desmond, who said it is vital for people from diverse backgrounds to be able to live together.
Neighbors wanted to know how long it might take to transform the home, and trust members said they plan to start work on the proposal at their upcoming meeting on Sept. 23. However, it could take a year or more to complete the project. Selectman Gardner Trask, who also serves as chairman of the Affordable Housing Trust, encouraged neighbors to attend trust meetings to provide their input.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.