, Salem, MA

October 23, 2013

Conifer Hill Commons

Local development firm creates 90 affordable apartments in Danvers, without resorting to 40B


---- — DANVERS — The town’s newest neighborhood opens Nov. 1.

That’s when residents of the Conifer Hill Commons affordable housing complex start to move in, with the completion of the first three buildings in the project.

Eventually, the $23.8 million apartment complex, which is being built in two phases, will have six buildings with a total of 90 apartments, all of them affordable.

The project, which is quietly nearing completion in a remote part of town, has been accomplished without the developer’s having to resort to a 40B permit — the mechanism that allows developers to skirt zoning laws in communities with too little affordable housing. Kavanagh Advisory Group, a Danvers firm making its first foray into affordable housing, did not ask for or receive a special permit.

”They deserve a lot of credit for doing this so well, by involving the town and not taking any shortcuts or circumvents,” said Selectman Gardner Trask, who attended a ribbon cutting for the development earlier this month. “We are going to get 90 new families who will add to the fabric and the diversity of the town.”

About 48 units are opening with the first phase of construction, and the rest will follow shortly, said Sean Donnelly, Conifer Hill Commons’ project manager and associate with the firm Kavanagh Advisory Group. Tax credits from the state Department of Housing and Community Development made the project possible, Donnelly said.

While the project did not go through a 40B permit battle, it did require a zoning variance because it is being built on land zoned for a highway corridor.

”Given that we were creating a neighborhood with Rand Circle (a nearby affordable-housing neighborhood), so they wouldn’t be on their own island, essentially, we were able to achieve the zoning variance with the town, through the appropriate channels,” Donnelly said.

The project is the brainchild of John Kavanagh III, who was CEO of the former William A. Berry & Sons Construction Co.

In his 24 years at that company, Kavanagh grew Berry from a small construction firm to a large one focused on health care, corporate and education construction, with $500 million in revenues and 400 employees in 2007. Kavanagh left in 2007 to become chairman and CEO of Kavanagh Advisory Group, which both develops its own projects and consults on others. (Berry was acquired by Suffolk Construction Co. in 2009.)

Conifer Hill Commons was designed by Bargmann Hendrie + Archtype Inc. of Boston and is being built by Windover Construction of Manchester-by-the-Sea.

The three-story apartment buildings have pitched roofs to give them a New England touch and fiber cement siding, which looks like wood clapboards but is designed to last. This was to help keep maintenance costs down, Donnelly said.

Some buildings have brick accents to mimic the brick townhouse office park across the street on Conifer Hill Drive. (It’s an office development Kavanagh developed, but which he has since sold, Donnelly said.) New stone walls help tie in the development with existing stone walls on the opposite side of the street.

There are a range of living options with 21 one-bedroom units, 57 two-bedroom units and 13 three-bedroom units. There will be two playgrounds for children.

The apartments boast energy-efficient appliances and central air. There are central laundry facilities, and the apartments themselves are both pet-friendly and smoke-free. Management is on site, and there’s plenty of parking with more than 190 spaces for the 90 units. Some of the apartments are wheelchair accessible.

The development proved to be a challenge, as it is set on a difficult parcel — a rolling piece of land bordered by Interstate 95 on one side and Route 1 on the other. Large rock walls show where crews had to cut into the hill. Kavanagh said the original idea was to build an office or retail development.

”It was easier to cut into the hill for each separate building, to step up the hill, as opposed to putting one big footprint of a retail box, a big box, or a big office headquarters,” Donnelly said. “It would have been such a substantial cut that it would have made the project not feasible.”

So why did Kavanagh decide to build affordable homes?

”We considered doing market rate up here, but there’s a considerable amount of competition in the market-rate units. Plus, we felt as though working with the Danvers Housing Authority ... and in talking with Rand Circle, we decided that with the tax credits, this became a real viable option,” Donnelly said. The project is not part of the Danvers Housing Authority, but considering the proximity to Rand Circle, Donnelly said the agency provided valuable advice.

To tie Conifer Hill Commons to the area, Kavanagh extended sidewalks down the hill to the nearby Danvers Plaza shopping center and built a sidewalk around the project to a CVS on Route 1.

”We tried to tie it in with the rest of the town. I know it’s far away from the center of town, but the effort was to create a community, or its own little neighborhood, up there.”

A housing lottery was held in August to find eligible tenants, but Gladys Agudelo, property manager with Maloney Properties, said people can still apply to get on the waiting list.

”The lottery was just basically so we were able to create a waiting list,” she said. Applications were sorted by bedroom size and priority preferences. (Agudelo can be reached at 617-209-5229 for more information.)

”They love it,” she said of those who will soon be residents. “They are just very happy that they are able to find a place that is brand-new and affordable.”

The apartments are considered affordable, not low-income, housing, Donnelly said, meaning a family of four eyeing a two-bedroom could have a maximum income limit of $56,640, or 60 percent of the area median income. The maximum allowable rent is $1,102 a month, which does not include utilities. The typical rent for a two bedroom is $1,400 to $1,500 a month, Agudelo said.

”These are working families,” Donnelly said. “... It’s giving a little bit of relief” to those in need of affordable housing.


Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.