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December 4, 2013

Peabody housing project questioned

PEABODY — At first glance, a proposed new housing project on Main Street looks to be just what the doctor ordered. It has the support of City Hall and seems on course to help revitalize an area needing both commercial and residential development. Even so, the project could face some tough questions when backers seek a special permit from the City Council tomorrow.

The proposal seeks to transform an office building at 98 Main St., currently owned by North Shore Community Action Projects or NSCAP, into an apartment complex with 10 one-bedroom units. Developers Norman Lee and James Gebo propose to buy the structure and promise, “The exterior and interior of the building will be totally renovated and the building brought back up to code.” They point out that “it is conveniently located right on the local bus route for those without a car and within easy walking distance to many restaurants, laundromats and retail stores.”

Community Development Director Karen Sawyer wrote the board that her city department has no objections to the project, adding, “We look forward to working with the new owner as he looks to transform this property. We also look forward to assisting NSCAP ... to more suitable quarters.”

The special permit is to allow the change of use from commercial to residential, Gebo said.

The building, first constructed in the early 1800s, contains nearly 7,000 square feet of space, enough to produce 10 units of 500 to 550 square feet, according to the developers. They propose to put two apartments in the basement, three on the first floor, three on the second and two on the third floor. In addition, says their lawyer Athan Vontzalides, there’s enough adjacent space for parking to give each unit two spaces.

“The whole idea is to revitalize the downtown area,” Vontzalides added. “You have to have people there to go to downtown businesses and spend their money.”

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