Residents are feeling good about proposed health center

For many residents, a full-service clinic in the Centre is just what the doctor ordered.

While Winthrop has a number of private practice physicians in homes, it has lacked a comprehensive medical clinic for many years, since the Winthrop Hospital shut down – but now East Boston Neighborhood Health Center (EBNHC) is trying to change that in proposing to demolish the old Family Dollar building and build a new, 9,000-square-foot clinic.

The clinic proposal isn’t a brand new idea.

Indeed, EBNHC purchased the building in the Centre for $450,000 last year and began discussion of the idea publicly at that time.

However, now they have begun to move forward, recently submitting requests for relief to the Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals.

The plan calls specifically for completely demolishing the 10,000 sq. ft. building on Somerset Street that formerly housed Family Dollar, Body in Motion and a TV Repair Shop. In its place, EBNHC will build a brand new one-story, 9,000 square foot medical facility.

The clinic will contain 10 adult exam rooms and two pediatric exam rooms – a major plus for the Town as there is very little pediatric care right now. There will be minor procedure rooms, a spacious waiting room for adults and another for children. The front of the building will feature an awning and tastefully planted street trees.

“EBNHC will invest approximately $4 million in the complete build out of a modern, state-of-the-art health care facility which will provide Winthrop with an additional health care resource,” read the filing to the Planning Board. “In addition to replacing a deteriorating eyesore in the neighborhood, EBNHC will provide a number of support staff job opportunities as well as economic enhancement for the community.”

Winthrop Attorney Richard Lynds is representing the health center and he said the plan will bring people to the Centre – and will also eliminate a building that has been vacant and underutilized for over two years.

“It’s a good thing for the central business district and it will support the existing businesses, create local jobs and bring people to the Centre,” he said. “Other businesses and restaurants will benefit by this facility bringing people to the facility, people who will also patronize nearby businesses.”

Eric Gaynor, Chamber of Commerce executive director, said that he sees the overall project as an anchor to the business district – a business that will consistently draw new customers to the Centre.

“The building has been vacant for a long time and it will definitely be a boon to the businesses in the area…It will be a bit of an anchor for the Centre. Besides the business aspect, just for people’s convenience, it’s great to have a facility where they can see a doctor in Winthrop.”

He continued, “It might be a little easier than going to East Boston or out of town to go to an appointment or get a flu shot. It keeps people in the Town and that’s what we want.”

While most in the community are hailing the plan, which will create jobs and much-needed foot traffic, the prescription for parking is something that hasn’t been filled. It could become quite an issue in the process, and Gaynor said they’re watching that carefully.

The plan calls for four handicap spaces on the property, but nothing more.

The facility can eliminate some of their parking needs by counting the municipal parking lot nearby, but even with that, they still fall 15 spaces short of compliance.

Given the tight space and the building specifications, Lynds said that they would appeal to the Town for relief, as there is just no way to include off-street parking on the small property.

“If we had to comply, it would be unlikely we would be able to put any building there,” he said. “The existing lot is unique in its layout…Parking enforcement is going to be an issue here. We’re doing the best we can to minimize the impacts on the neighborhood.”

Gaynor said they are weighing the pros and cons to the parking problem.

Though they haven’t taken a stand, he said that preliminarily it looks like the positives overshadow the negatives.

“That is a huge concern,” he said. “It’s a trade off. The good thing is we’ll have a good business there that will attract people. The con is whether or not it will overwhelm the parking situation. We can certainly work with the health center to have employees not park on the street. Most businesses in the Centre already abide by that and it does help.”

He said he felt that a solution to the problem could be worked out between the health center, city leaders, adjacent neighbors and the business community.

“We think a solution can be worked out,” he said. “We’ve had nothing but good experiences with the health center. I think they will do what it takes to allay the fears of neighbors and other businesses.”

The Planning Board will be the first to review the proposal at their Monday, October 18, meeting in Town Hall. Specifically, they will be considering a special permit that would allow demolition of the current building and reconstruction of a new building that is greater than 5,000 square foot.

Later in the month, the proposal will most likely go before the Zoning Board of Appeals to look for parking relief.

Family Dollar’s absence creates a retail void in Winthrop

The Family Dollar store in Winthrop Centre was no Macy’s or Filene’s, but when it closed down two years ago and moved to Revere, it did eliminate a much-needed retail anchor in the business district.

A number of people were disappointed with the move.

Now, business officials say they expect that there might be some disappointment that the building’s re-use as a health center does not include a retail component.

While getting a health center into the area is, by most accounts, a plus, it still means that the Centre lacks a big box retail store.

Chamber Executive Director Eric Gaynor said that it was not for lack of effort that this happened.

He said that big box retailers will no longer even consider locating in areas like the Centre that feature tight quarters and one-way streets.

“Family Dollar closed and people miss it,” he said. “They left, and believe me, we tried all types of things to get stores to come in and look critically at our Town, but it wasn’t going to happen. [The health center] was the best alternative that could have happened.”

Gaynor said that most chains nowadays have a list of requirements for any potential site. If even one of those requirements – such as being on a one-way street – isn’t met, they don’t even bother to make a visit.

“The one-way streets, that’s a deal killer for most chain stores,” said Gaynor.

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