PEABODY — Developers have reduced the number of senior condos from 135 to 120 in what they are calling King Residence in a redevelopment of the former site of the J.B. Thomas and Curahealth Boston North Shore hospitals.
About 135 people turned out to the Wiggin Auditorium in City Hall to listen to a new proposal from consultants for owner Hemisphere Development Group LLC.
The owners are proposing to tear down the old hospital buildings and put up three buildings in what would be an over 55 condominium development.
Two of the buildings would have 38 units and one would have 44 units. The site is bounded by King Street, Ellsworth and Southwick roads.
“We all have a lot of concerns, a lot of questions,” said Ward 4 Councilor Ed Charest, a resident of nearby Columbus Road. He said at the start the presentation may or may not answer questions by residents of the Emerson Park Neighborhood about the development.
“This is a long-time coming,” said Charest, noting that it was about year ago when the city last had a meeting
Just like last winter, residents continued to have concerns about traffic generated despite the reduced number of condos. Some said they were parents with small children who were concerned about the added traffic.
Residents like Maureen Callahan of Ethel Avenue questioned why the entrance was on King Street, instead of onto Ellsworth Road. She pointed out that every condo unit owner would have two cars. “We only have the same roads,” Callahan said.
“On a functional basis, King Street makes the most sense,” said Jai Singh Khalsa, president of Khalsa Design Inc. of Somerville, the architect on the project.
The project drew some mixed reviews.
“Actually, I thought the buildings looked very nice,” said Jane Clancey of Irving Street after the meeting was over, “but the people who are abutters have concerns.”
“I was happy with the design,” said Wendell Boggs, who lives on Ellsworth Road, after the meeting. “It was too high, that was the problem I had, and it was too many units.” Boggs would have preferred a townhouse development.
Jarrod Hochman, a resident of Ellsworth Road who sits on the Peabody School Committee, drew applause when he said the impact from a senior condominium development will be just as detrimental as if there were no age restriction on the units. He called the proposal a “red herring” in that someone who is 55 can have a family with children, or be caring for their grandchildren.
Other residents questioned a traffic study by the firm Vanasse & Associates of Andover showing 498 trips generated each weekday from the development, far less than the 1,964 trips that were formerly at the site. Some residents thought that was too low.
“This traffic study, it doesn’t pass the smell test,” Hochman said to applause. The increased number of cars would be a safety concern with students who attend the Higgins Middle School not far away, he said. “This is going to be a safety issue with kids.”
Hochman criticized the amount of zoning relief the development would need, including a zoning change from one that only allows one-and two-family homes to one that allows multifamilies homes.
He said such a development may work in Cambridge, which is walkable, but not in a suburban neighborhood where the closest supermarket is over a mile away.
“No one is walking a mile and three-quarters and carrying groceries,” Hochman said.
At the start of the meeting, Mayor Ted Bettencourt outlined the site’s recent history.
“This is an important decision for a key property that I’m sure all of you see everyday,” said Bettencourt.
He told the meeting the sale of the building and the project “completely caught me off guard,” Bettencourt said. Curahealth Boston North Shore, a 50-bed long-term care hospital, closed toward the end of 2017 and Hemisphere purchased the complex on 3.2 acres in December 2017 for $1.9 million.
“I felt it was something that was dropped on us, and we have to make the right decision for the property,” Bettencourt said.
Bettencourt said he tried to dissuade potential buyers, including one for that wanted to build a drug and alcohol rehab and another who wanted to use the site to cultivate marijuana. Bettencourt said he has been impressed by Hemisphere Development Group, a subsidiary of a large development firm in China.
Bettencourt said he thought a 55-and-over senior condo project would be a good fit because it offered less of an impact on the neighborhood.
About a year ago, at a similar meeting, city officials fielded concerns about parking and traffic from a 135-condo concept. Bettencourt said the city asked Hemisphere to reduce the number of condos and not build one building.
Bettencourt said he has three concerns if the development stalls.
First, he asked what might happen to the property if Hemisphere decided not to move forward, and the facility become an abandoned eyesore. The other concern he had was, since the building was a hospital, another developer might try to restart the medical use.
Bettencourt said the site might attract a large affordable housing development. Cities and towns that are below the state-mandated 10-percent affordable housing threshold are not able fend off large developments, and would be allowed to get around most zoning rules, he said.
The city’s affordable housing inventory stands at 9.5 percent, or 150 units below the number where the city needs to be to fend off large developments.
Peabody attorney Athan Vontzalides, who represents Hemisphere, said developers have tweaked their proposal, which would include, studio, one and two-bedrooms, but no three bedroom condos. There would be 238 parking spaces with the only access out onto King Street. The proposal would have 18 affordable units under the city’s inclusionary zoning ordinance. There would also be a building with a community room and gym.
“If this property does move forward, we are going to need some zoning relief,” Vontzalides said.
The property sits in an R2 zoning district, which allows two-family homes on a minimum of 5,000-square-foot lots. Vontzalides said the city is looking to rezone the site to an R4 zoning district, which allows for multifamily residential housing by right.
Residents also asked if the buildings could be reduced in height. The existing buildings have a height of 38.6 feet, and the maximum height of the three buildings would be 37.6 feet.
Judy McNiff of Ellsworth Road said she used to work at the former J.B. Thomas Hospital for 13 years, and she said that it was her opinion the hospital was not as busy as the proposed senior condo development would be. She was also concerned that the plan showed tandem parking spaces. She said residents would probably park in the neighborhood rather than juggle cars. Khalsa said the parking plan attempted to create 60 visitor parking spaces to keep cars from parking in the neighborhood.
Bettencourt told residents the proposal would trigger two public meetings, one before the Zoning Board of Appeals for the parking plan, landscaping and other relief.
The City Council would have to vote to change the zoning of the property to allow for the multifamily use, the mayor said.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews.