PEABODY — It will likely be several months before the former J.B. Thomas/Curahealth building is torn down and a 133-unit condo complex is built.
The condo project was approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals on July 19, and according to attorney Jason Panos — who represents the project developer HDG King Street LLC — the developer still needs to receive a building permit before construction can begin.
“The current building will be taken down when the building permit is issued, and we are several months away from that,” he said, adding that once the ZBA’s decision is officially filed, the project’s opponents still have 20 days to file an appeal with superior or land court. “Once we clear the appeal period and the decision becomes final, it will probably take six to seven months to get building plans in place.”
After that, Panos said, the developer will have a few more meetings with the city in order to ensure the plans are up to building and fire code.
Panos also acknowledged the pushback the project received from residents and some city officials over the past year, but he said he believes the addition of the proposed condo complex could be beneficial to the neighborhood.
“I think at the end of the day, people are going to say, ‘You know what? That’s not so bad,’” he said. “I get it, people are very nervous about change. Even if they are living next to a dilapidated, blighted building, they know what that is, and people are fearful of what might be there instead.”
Putting a large number of condos at 15 King St. has long raised concerns about how such a dramatic increase in the number of people living in the area would impact the neighborhood. The developer previously submitted plans to build 110 senior condos on the same property, but after pushback from neighbors, the developer withdrew the plans and submitted a 40B application instead.
Under Chapter 40B, the state’s affordable housing law, these projects can sidestep most local zoning regulations in communities that are not at the mandated state threshold of 10% affordable housing. When the project’s developer filed, Peabody had not reached the 10% threshold.
At the planned three-building condo complex, 25%, or 34, of the 133 condos would be designated as affordable housing.
After several months of peer review and negotiations with the city, Panos said the developers agreed to pay for and make several improvements to the neighborhood which will ensure the project does not have a negative impact on the area.
Some of those improvements, Panos noted, include implementing a stormwater management system at the property which will reduce the amount of water running into the streets and spending up to $240,000 to investigate and fix any issues with the sewer line which runs below Lowell Street.
In addition, the developer is contributing up to $94,000 towards several improvements to the intersections of Lowell, King and Endicott streets, and King and Ellsworth streets. These improvements include new LED lighting, the installation of ADA-compliant pedestrian push buttons at crosswalks, the installation of countdown pedestrian crossing signals, sidewalk renovations, and other improvements.
During the July 19 meeting, Barry Osborne was the only member of the ZBA to vote against the project, explaining that he feels there should have been more conversation about how the project could potentially impact the density of the area.
“I’m really torn on voting for this thing because I really believe that something needs to happen at that site, because it is just going to get worse,” he said during the meeting. “It’s an eyesore, and it is going to continue to be an eyesore and it is going to become a worse eyesore if something doesn’t happen.”
Ward 4 City Councilor Ed Charest, who represents the ward where the condo complex would be built, said he supported the original plan to build senior housing at the property and is also concerned about how large the 40B project is.
“I’m sad this came to fruition. I’m not surprised, but I am sad,” he said, adding that the senior housing would have included less units and more parking.
It is true, Panos said, that the density of the neighborhood was not explicitly discussed at length with the ZBA; however, there was a peer review done which identified numerous local concerns.
“We went through an exhaustive, and I really mean exhaustive, peer review process that did not result in emerging issues that can only be addressed by density,” he said, explaining that the developers and the city were able to work out ways to address local concerns without discussing density. “Therefore, you don’t get to discuss density just because you feel like it.”
He added, “It is very important for people to know this did go through this exhaustive vetting process. We made sure these items that resulted in the peer review, the memos that went back and forth, were all discussed out in the open.”
Charest acknowledged that the developers made several concessions regarding the project, and he said he believes they want to be good neighbors to the other residents of the neighborhood.
“My hopes are, and I have no reason to believe this won’t happen, that it gets done in a timely manner, a respectful manner, and that they become part of the community as they’ve said they want to be,” Charest said. “I hope that people are respectful to everyone involved in the process from the zoning board members to contractor building it.”
Charest added that he still believes senior housing would have been an ideal option for the property.
Panos — who lives in Peabody — said he would not attempt to bring development to the city unless he believed that development were responsible.
“My approach to these developments is the same in any other community,” he said. “I am about community development, not inappropriate development or irresponsible development. Of course, I care about the city of Peabody.”
The three-building condo complex is expected to include 59 one-bedroom units, 60 two-bedroom units and 14 three-bedroom units. There can also be up to 201 parking spaces, including 21 underground garage spots, 30 compact spaces and seven accessible spaces.
Staff writer Erin Nolan can be reached at 978-338-2534, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or onTwitter at @erin_nolan_.