PEABODY — A neighborhood meeting on plans to transform the former J.B. Thomas Hospital into a three-building, 110-unit senior condominium development is being billed as a way to keep residents informed and spark discussion, said the councilor who proposed the gathering.

The meeting, at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 28, in the Wiggin Auditorium at City Hall, was arranged by Ward 4 Councilor Edward Charest. It's meant "to give another opportunity to see the plans the developer has proposed," he said.  

Plans submitted to the council earlier this year will be on display at the meeting, and can also be found on the city's website. 

The developer, Hemisphere Development Group LLC of Boston, will not be in attendance. Charest said the developer will be available for a separate meeting in the fall.  

Charest said resident have reached out to him to see the plans, and the intent of the meeting is "to be as transparent as possible."

The developer plans to tear down the existing dilapidated hospital, which was most recently used as the 50-bed Curahealth Boston North Shore long-term care hospital, to make way for the condo buildings. This hospital closed in 2017.

The proposed active adult residential senior condo concept has caused consternation among some residents about the four-story development being out of scale in a neighborhood of single and two-family homes. The 3.2-acre property at 15 King St. is bounded by the residential streets of King Street and Ellsworth and Southwick roads.

There are concerns about the development generating more traffic in the Emerson Park neighborhood, while making it harder to park on the street. Developers have said they plan to create 238 on-site spaces, but neighbors are concerned that the creation of tandem parking will push cars out onto city streets, as condo residences use the street as a matter of convenience. The plan calls for a single driveway on King Street.

Meeting goals

A website marketing "Kings Residences" touts the plan as generating $500,000 a year in property taxes, and creating 16 affordable condos under the city's inclusionary zoning ordinance. Because it is an age-restricted development, it will not add many students to city schools. During the past couple of years, developers said they have scaled back the number of condos from 150 to 110.

The developer had planned on presenting a special permit application to the City Council in August, but due to scheduling conflicts of the company's representatives being out of the country for an extended period, the company asked for an extension of the public hearing until December.

The property sits in an R-2 zoning district which allows single and two-family homes, with the hospital being a nonconforming use prior to zoning. Some neighbors have said that they want to see single and two-family housing on the site, not a large, dense project.

Emerson Street resident John Salisbury-Rowswell said folks in the neighborhood are not sure what the meeting might accomplish.

"It's a bit of a problem, no one is saying what should be accomplished," said Salisbury-Rowswell, who is running against Charest for Ward 4 councilor. After a couple of neighborhood meetings, he said, developers are continuing to push a development "way out of whack" with what the neighborhood wants.

While campaigning in the neighborhood, Salisbury-Rowswell said nearly everyone he has spoken with is against the project, save for about half dozen to a dozen people who are afraid of the alternative. The website for the project states that before the land was purchased, potential buyers eyed the property for a marijuana cultivation facility or a drug and alcohol rehab center. 

Salisbury-Rowswell said there's a sentiment Wednesday's meeting might be a waste of time, but he thinks it will be well-attended. 

Charest, who is also running for re-election, said he's been fielding phone calls from both those in favor and against the project. A woman in her 70s who lives in the neighborhood called him wanting to know how quickly it would be constructed because she wanted to sell her home and move in, Charest said. 

"What I'm hoping to get is more people informed," he said. 

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