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October 17, 2013

City set to close on Lowell Street building

PEABODY — It’s not easy to turn green, but Mayor Ted Bettencourt will take a first step toward a more verdant downtown over the next 30 days. Specifically, he will purchase the building across from City Hall at the corner of Lowell and Chestnut streets.

A verbal agreement with the owners, the Codair Family Trust, to buy the property for $180,000 is already in place.

The City Council blessed the purchase by a 9-1 vote at its Oct. 10 meeting, with only Councilor Barry Sinewitz opposed.

Bettencourt plans to tear the building down, at an estimated cost of $25,000, and add plants and open space to brighten the look of the downtown while helping to prevent flooding, by soaking up the North River overflow.

Providing greenscape to the downtown is his aim, the mayor said this week. When it comes to floodwater, he added, “I’ve really felt that that area is ground zero.” He spoke of plantings and bare ground, which soak up water instead of allowing more runoff. Yet, he conceded, the demand for downtown parking could also factor into how some of the space is used.

In paying for these plans Bettencourt is hopeful of finding outside funding. “We’re seeking FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) grant money because it is in a flood zone,” he said.

The property, often seen with water lapping at its windows, is frequently chosen by TV news channels to demonstrate the damage created by Peabody flood waters, he noted.

“But right now I’m envisioning open space,” Bettencourt said. “Maybe picnic tables.” There is no immediacy, he continued, about getting all this done.

During the finance committee hearing Councilor Anne Manning-Martin wondered if the purchase might put the city on the hook for flood insurance.

“We do not need flood insurance,” the mayor replied, as there will be no mortgage on the property.

Councilor Dave Gravel previously labeled the $180,000 price tag a bargain. The building suffered significant damage during the Mother’s Day storm of 2006 and has been vacant ever since. It was built in 1840, but no one has argued that it has status as a historic structure.

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