PEABODY — A proposed zoning use change before the Peabody City Council would finally allow Habitat for Humanity to operate its resale store as it had first envisioned more than a year ago.
The council on Thursday is scheduled to convene a public hearing and vote on a zoning amendment that would add a charitable retail use to light industrial zones, such as the Pulaski Street industrial park. The use would be by special permit from the council.
"It's a great solution," said Don Preston, the executive director of Habitat for Humanity-North Shore, on Wednesday.
Since last July, to comply with existing zoning regulations, Habitat has operated a scaled back version of its store as more of a wholesale operation with a small, 2,000-square-foot showroom and limited items on display.
"It's been difficult and wasn't sustainable," said Preston. "So we were facing either closing or relocating the store."
He explained that there has been a lot of interest from the public in that time and they had developed an extensive online catalog, but he was having to reallocate resources from the agency's main function — home building and renovation — over to running the store.
"Because we're not realizing the full potential, we have to carry the ReStore; that's the opposite of how it's supposed to work," he said.
But, if this proposal passes and Habitat can secure the special permit, it will allow for the full use of the space. Preston said the front of the store would likely remain as it is now, except for opening up an entrance for the public to the rest of the inventory.
Habitat first started building out a 15,000-square-foot space at 58 Rear Pulaski St — a former plastic bag factory — in late 2017. The plan was to open a deep discount home improvement center, similar to other Habitat ReStores, chock full of second-hand furniture, appliances and other goods, with sales supporting the nonprofit agency's home builds and renovations.
But there was a snag — the city’s zoning regulations didn’t allow for a retail sales operation in an industrial district.
At the same time they were building out the new showroom, Habitat sought a zoning change from the council to allow retail shops of 50,000 square feet or less by special permit in light industrial zones.
But councilors, leery of unforeseen repercussions, rejected that request last March. They were, however, supportive of the Habitat resale store concept.
It took a while to figure out a solution to those concerns, but then Councilor Pete McGinn offered up the idea of just adding a new use to the district, according to Preston.
McGinn was not available for comment on Wednesday.
"The previous proposal was probably a little broad and could possibly open it up to some uses that weren't anticipated," Preston acknowledged. "This is a more focused adaptation. It doesn't open it up to unwanted uses."
"I agree with Don," said Community Development Director Curt Bellavance, in a separate interview. "It also covers any other charitable retail use that may want to open a facility similar to Habitat." Bellavance said he will be at the council meeting Thursday to discuss it.
The council's Industrial & Community Development Subcommittee passed the new proposal along in February, and the Planning Board offered a similar endorsement earlier this month.
The new language specifically allows charitable retail facilities less than 12,000 square feet in size, where the entity is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit selling general merchandise, furniture, household goods, dry goods, clothing, hardware, paint, household appliances, and/or books.
Preston noted that this type of retail use had previously been allowed in light industrial zones, but had been removed under previous rezoning measures.
"It's making a more realistic use of these areas," he said. "We're excited too that the redevelopment of the (Pulaski Mills next door) will liven up an otherwise dismal industrial park."
"We're really happy to be here," he said.