By John Castelluccio
---- — PEABODY — Residents say a proposed condo development in downtown Peabody could bring more flood waters their way and add further congestion to the neighborhood.
Larkin Real Estate Group of North Reading wants to build 26 condominiums on property owned and occupied by the Peabody-Lynn Elks Lodge at 40 Oak St. The parking lot at the rear of the property, where most of the condos would be built, extends to Littles Lane and leads to Main Street.
The club would be demolished and the townhouses, built in groups of three or four buildings together, would have two-car garages underneath.
But neighbors say the area is already densely settled, with narrow streets, and located in a flood zone. There are wetlands abutting the parking lot. Streets and backyards are already deluged in bad storms, they say, and they fear 26 new homes will worsen the problem.
Charlene Cruz of 5 Sanborn St. said her yard was under 3 feet of water in the 2011 storm, and she can imagine a worse scenario with townhouses there. Her backyard faces the parking lot.
Cruz has flood insurance, but says she’s one of the only residents in the neighborhood who does.
George and Judith Donahue live on the other side of the Elks, at 39 Washington St., which is at a high-enough elevation they don’t get flooded.
“That area down there is wetlands ... a swamp,” Judith Donahue said, adding that her husband used to ice skate many years ago where the parking lot is now.
“That many townhouses could change the whole lay of the land,” she said, and bring with it more flooding, congestion, noise and traffic. She said she’s not against housing and isn’t sure what the best use of the property might be, but “overcrowding is a problem. ... I certainly don’t think throwing in 26 townhouses is the best use of that property.”
Michael Larkin of Larkin Real Estate Group says the project should not exacerbate flooding. Impervious material at the site will be reduced by 15 to 20 percent, he said, and more stormwater management controls will be installed. The goal is for a neutral effect, he said, as well as slowing down the amount of water runoff from the site.
Larkin said the area floods because of the brooks that converge on the downtown, the low elevation of the land and poor drainage. That’s beyond his control.
“But we can try to control as much as we can onsite,” he said. He noted a previous housing proposal had nearly double the number of units.
“I think we bring a lot to the neighborhood,” Larkin said. He believes new housing and more families will benefit downtown businesses and be a positive addition to the neighborhood.
The townhouses would have two or three bedrooms, 11/2 baths and small backyards at an affordable price, said Larkin. Four of the condos would be set aside as affordable housing.
Larkin said his firm would purchase the property from the Elks, pending approval of city permits, and the club would relocate. Larkin hopes to secure an order of conditions from the Conservation Commission and file with the Planning Board in April in order to begin construction by next spring.
Representatives from the Elks Lodge could not be reached for comment.
Community Development Director Karen Sawyer and Conservation Agent Lucia DelNegro both confirmed that historical flooding issues and the proximity to wetlands will be significant factors in whether the project is approved. The ConCom will continue its review of the project on April 9.
DelNegro said only four residents spoke publicly at a recent hearing, but several others were in the audience. Ward 2 Councilor Peter McGinn was among the speakers.
McGinn said he’s still in “fact-finding” mode and can’t commit to supporting or opposing the project.
“It’s clearly a low-lying area,” he said, and he believes the project should be scrutinized closely. He said he isn’t sure of the Elks’ plan for the future.
“Any kind of development that happens hopefully will be neutral or reduce flooding,” he said. “On the right scale, I’m not necessarily opposed to it.”
You can reach John Castelluccio at 978-338-2527, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @SNjcastelluccio.