Developers tout condo plans with new marketing  

Courtesy imageA rendering of the proposed King's Residences condos at the site of the former J.B. Thomas Hospital on King Street in Peabody.

PEABODY — The company trying to redevelop the former J.B. Thomas Hospital wants to get their message out about their proposal to tear down the vacant hospital and turn it into condos.

If built, the age 55 and up senior condominium development with 110 units would replace the dilapidated hospital  at 15 King St. in the tight-knit Emerson Park neighborhood.

However, the proposal has upset some of the neighbors who say it's out of scale for a residential neighborhood of single and two-family homes.

They are concerned the "active adult residential community" will only add congestion and parking.

A special permit hearing on the proposal was delayed from next week until December.

Amid the controversy, the developers have now launched a marketing website and a Facebook page called "Support Kings Residences in Peabody."

On Thursday, Hemisphere Development Group, LLC, announced the new website, which features a rendering of one of the proposed three condo buildings, a photo of an older couple sipping white wine, and a view of a weight room that appears to be located on the upper floors of a high-rise building.

The website also asks residents to voice their support for the project — "with just one click," it says.

Hemisphere is touting the project's benefits, including $500,000 in tax revenues.

The property is assessed at $4.14 million by the city, and at the current commercial tax rate of $23.09 per $1,000 of assessed value, it generates just $95,569 in taxes for city coffers.

The development will create three to five management jobs when finished, and 30 to 50 construction jobs as it is being built, the website says. About 16 of the condos would be affordable under the city's inclusionary zoning ordinance.

One big concern about the development, from neighbors, is traffic, and the website shows a traffic study that found 416 new vehicle trips on an average weekday, with 208 vehicles entering and exiting a day. Hemisphere is also saying this is less traffic than the former medical use generated. And because it is senior housing, it will not overburden the schools. The website also talks about on-site parking.

The project has been scaled back 27% since it was first proposed a few years ago with 150 condos.

The hospital buildings were last used as the 50-bed Curahealth Boston North Shore long-term care facility, which closed in 2017 before Hemisphere purchased the property for $1.9 million. 

Boston-based Hemisphere is a subsidiary of a large Chinese development company, which is also pursuing a project in Boston. The Peabody development is one of its first in the United States.

“We look forward to creating a new beginning for the old hospital site that will clean up a vacant, run down property and provide new residential options for the 55 and over community, including affordable housing under the city’s inclusionary zoning ordinance,” said Al Chow, of Hemisphere Development, in a statement.

Developers note the hospital has been a vacant eyesore for years, and that it "will replace the site’s pre-existing nonconforming hospital use."

Political ramifications

One neighbor who isn't buying the sales pitch says the development will be front and center during the City Council race for Ward 4 in November.

"They decided they were going to do a whole publicity pitch," said John Salisbury-Rowswell, a molecular biologist by profession, who lives one street away from the vacant hospital. He has been an outspoken critic of the plan from the start.

Salisbury-Rowswell, who lives at 7 Emerson St., is challenging two-term incumbent Edward Charest regarding what he says is Charest's support for the project.

"All they do is say it's wonderful," he said, referring to Hemisphere. But, he also sees the website as "practically" a campaign website for Charest.

"He carries water for the development company and now they are carrying water for him," Salisbury-Rowswell said.

Charest denied the website was connected to his re-election campaign.

"It's ridiculous. It's not a campaign page for me," Charest said. "A statement like that is ridiculous."

Salisbury-Rowswell said some in the neighborhood were upset by the permitting process, saying developers tried to sneak it through during the summer, when there was not a lot of time to review the proposal. 

After a special permit application was filed at the end of June, a public hearing before the City Council was scheduled for Aug. 22. However, due to Hemisphere representatives not being available in August, the developer's attorney asked for an extension until December to hear the plans.

Salisbury-Rowswell said the delay on the special permit process, until after the election, makes this a key issue in the Ward 4 race. He says voters will decide between Charest, who he said favors "unlimited development," or someone like him who represents the wishes of the neighborhood, which favors the site being redeveloped into singe-family and two-family homes.

Charest said he is not in favor of "unlimited" development. He recalls one of the first battles he fought as a city councilor was over a proposed 96-unit affordable housing development, under the state's Chapter 40B law, along Route 114 in favor of a zoning change to allow for car storage behind the Audi dealership.

Charest, who lives a few streets over, said something is going to be built at the former hospital site, and so far, Hemisphere's proposal is "the best option that has been presented" due to it being senior housing.

"I'm trying to get the best possible solution for the neighbors," he said. The website is just a way for the developers to get information out to residents, he said.

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

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