BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — SWAMPSCOTT — The recent demolition of the former Temple Israel on Humphrey Street signaled the beginning of a new housing development that developers and town officials say will fill a need in town.
”It’s going to revitalize a property that has been shuttered for eight years,” said selectmen Chairman Jill Sullivan, who has long been involved in the redevelopment of the former Temple Israel site.
Officials, representatives for the developer and real estate agents held a groundbreaking Dec. 19 for Atlantic Crossing, the new $11 million development of 14 new houses along a semicircular drive.
Designed by architect Wendy Welton and built by Fred Schultz of Versacon LLC, the craftsman-style homes will feature front porches and have three to four bedrooms, said Project Manager Danielle Singleton of Charing Cross Realty, the developer.
”It will bring additional tax revenue to the community, also,” said Town Administrator Thomas Younger, “not just the tax revenue, but all the permitting fees, all the building fees for the project goes into the town funds ... We are also redeveloping and revitalizing ... a long-term vacant property that will work with the neighborhood.”
The homes range in price from $539,000 to $725,000, with 2,450 to 2,900 square feet of living space. So far, seven of the homes are under agreement, according to marketing materials from Sagan Realtors of Swampscott and the developer. The plan is to finish the homes in one year.
Younger said the homes are a perfect location for families that are downsizing but are looking to remain in Swampscott.
“A lot of the people who have come to us have said that they’ve wanted to buy a house in Swampscott; there is just no open land,” Singleton said. “Unless you want to spend $1 million to buy a house and knock it down, there are really no options.”
”It’s a great opportunity for people to get new construction,” said Shari Sagan McGuirk, a real estate agent with Sagan Realtors of Swampscott. “You can’t always find that in this price range. ... It’s going to be high-quality finishes and hardwood and fireplaces. So, we think it’s going to be wonderful for the neighborhood and bring a few more people to Swampscott.”
The town has long grappled with what to do about the nearly 2.3-acre property at 837 Humphrey St., which sits in a residential neighborhood, after the town bought it for $3.25 million in 2006. Over the years, the town batted around proposals for condominiums and an assisted-living facility. The building was even used as a temporary town hall during renovations to Swampscott Town Hall on Monument Avenue several years ago.
In 2007, a Temple Israel reuse committee looked at whether the 1950s former synagogue building could be used as a municipal building, a cultural center or torn down and redeveloped. The committee recommended the basement be reused as a police station and the upper floor a community cultural arts center.
These plans never came to pass, and the town has since built a new police station on Humphrey Street. The parcel used to have a much larger parking lot with access to Atlantic Avenue, but Congregation Shirat Hayam sold this portion of the lot to a neighbor for $450,000, according to the deed.
Charing Cross Realty, in the form of Atlantic Crossing LLC of Salem, later bought the Temple Israel property for $1.85 million. The developer is Philip Singleton, a Lynnfield resident and Salem native whose projects on the North Shore include the Tannery in Peabody, the Salem Police Station and the Bowditch and Pickering schools in Salem.
The land had been rezoned for 40 condominiums, said Singleton, who approached selectmen Chairman Sullivan about whether the town would be flexible when it submitted a bid. A plan for 19 homes ran into resistance at Town Meeting, so the number of homes was reduced to 14.
On the company’s second try, Town Meeting in October 2012 approved rezoning the property to make way for the new homes.
”The second time, it was unanimous in favor,” he said. “The first time, we lost by a majority vote, but we had more units at that point.”
”I’m thrilled,” Sullivan said. “We think it’s right for the neighborhood, and it’s low impact in terms of density, and it’s going to fit in with the homes around... It fills a need that is not being met in town with other kinds of housing, so I think it’s terrific.”
”Once it’s done and landscaped, it will feel very much like the neighboring streets,” said Julie Sagan, a real estate agent with Sagan Realtors. “I think once they see some of the houses go up, that they will probably want to jump at the opportunity. It’s going to be a neighborhood; it will feel like a very nice neighborhood village feel. It’s a mix of empty-nesters and families with children that have shown interest.”
For those who would like a souvenir of the old temple building, there are bricks available at the Sagan Realtors office, 300 Salem St., Swampscott. The builder also plans to crush the bricks and put them under the road, “so there will always be a piece of the temple here,” Sagan said.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.