316 housing units pitched in Salem

Courtesy GraphicA five-building, 316-unit housing project called Overlook Acres is being discussed for Highland Avenue by Barnes Road. As outlined by this early render, the project will surround another being drawn up for the prior cineplex site, where about 175 units were recently being discussed.

SALEM — A 316-unit housing project is being proposed off of Highland Avenue, one that will wrap around another that's proposes to bring about 180 units to the prior "cineplex" site on the busy corridor.

Overlook Acres LLC., a development team previously connected to the 212-unit project being built on Trader's Way a half-mile down the road, is teasing the idea of four buildings of housing and about 9,000 square feet in commercial space for the corner of Barnes Road and Highland Avenue.

The project surrounds another housing proposal being pitched within the confines of the recently withdrawn CW Theaters cineplex, where about 180 units were first unveiled at a neighborhood meeting in February. The Overlook Acres developers met with members of the Barnes-Clark-Wyman Neighborhood Association Thursday night at the high school.

The Overlook team is designing five buildings, four of which have three to four stories spread throughout a 16-acre site made up of 13 total parcels of land as laid out Thursday night. The project is billed to designate 10 percent of its units — about 30 — as affordable and provide more than 450 parking spaces. Plans are due to be tweaked based on public input and then submitted to the city's Planning Board by the end of January, according to project principal Peter Lutts.

"We're doing a mixed-use development, which has some commercial right up front (along Highland Avenue), and the primary part of the development is residential," Lutts said. 

The project also includes a clubhouse for residents, dog park and walking trail connected to around nine acres of protected open space, according to project principal Pavel Espinal.

But the project drew the heaviest feedback from neighbors based on anticipated traffic impacts, an issue that generally hits any project targeting Highland Avenue given the state highway's monumental traffic problems.

Robert Michaud, a traffic analyst crunching numbers on the project, said it would generate about 90 cars leaving the site per hour at its peak each morning. About two-thirds of that will head toward Salem, while the remaining third will head toward Lynn. That amounts, he said, to one more car per minute hitting the Swampscott Road intersection with Highland Avenue at the heaviest traveled hour.

At night, the peak traffic hour will result in about 100 cars coming back to the site during the heaviest hour, according to Michaud.

"This type of an impact is a manageable impact, but we will be under scrutiny from MassDOT," Michaud said. "For this project to advance, there will have to be discussions with MassDOT in evaluation with their standards and to their satisfaction to ensure to DOT as well as the city that this can work efficiently and safely, and the impacts won't overburden the Highland Avenue corridor." 

Still, residents living nearby — especially around Barnes Road and the rest of that neighborhood — were sharply concerned.

"We've been suffocated with the traffic," said Barnes Road resident Bob Provencher. "We have rights. We have rights as neighbors, we have rights as people to have living rights and peace of mind. We haven't had that for four years now, and you're going to go in with some more?"

Alvi Ibanez, another Barnes Road resident, asked the development team to "understand the problem that's going to cause traffic-wise and safety-wise."

"We already have issues there," Ibanez said. "The time I leave or come home is based on the traffic. My life, right now, is based on the traffic."

Clark Street resident Gail Fialho raised concerns about the buildings and how close they get to other homes nearby. While the four-story buildings will seem level with nearby single-family homes because of elevation changes, she reminded developers that buildings going up along Barnes Road will impact privacy for those already living there.

Residents on Barnes Road "are going to see windows, and windows are going to see them, Fialho said. "So within 100 feet, you have a loss of privacy."

Contact Salem reporter Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or DLuca@salemnews.com. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/dustinluca or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.

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