Center Development Receives Pushback

Residents certainly let a developer for a Center Business District property know how they feel about having new development on Somerset Avenue.

“It looks like Revere Beach,” said one man, and this sentiment agreed upon by others.

Envelo Properties of Boston and Newport purchased the property at 10-16 Somerset for $1.2 million over a year ago and are seeking to build 40 units on the site of the old Dollar Store.

Last Thursday night at the E.B. Newton, Joanna Schwartz, a principal with Envelo, presented her idea for a possible five-story apartment building with parking on the first level.

Schwatrz held her own as she was shot questions, comments and complaints about her idea.

Resident Frank Constantino said the photograph of the development as shown in the newspaper was taken from the opposite direction on Woodside Avenue making it appear large in comparison to the rest of the center. He noted that an automobile in the photo was turning in the wrong direction. He also questioned the plan to have parking for 34 cars.

“This blocky design looks like a Lego structure and something transplanted from Revere Beach,” Constantino, an architect, said.

The developers will be seeking relief from the Planning Board and Zoning Board for parking requirements, as well as density, height and setbacks.

Without naming former Town Manager James McKenna, Constantino questioned early work in the Center Business District (CBD) process under him, contact with developers, and possible prior agreements.

“Many people are understandably disturbed by the project and our town folk should have a consensus as to what the Center should look like,” Constantino said, adding there needs to be a thoughtful transformation into a business district that will be in the town for decades.

Schwartz, acknowledged the car in the photo is going the wrong way, which she said was a drafting error. She said the plans, on file for the public, show many different angles.

“My goal is to share the information the way I have it today,” Schwartz said.

Represented by Attorney James Cipoletta, Schwartz reminded the crowd at the meeting that the Master Plan for the center had been adopted by the town a year and a half ago.

“That is the blueprint for the town as it is today,” she said, reminding all that she had nothing to do with the master plan. She then introduced Assistant Town Manager David Rodrigues who has a planning background, and will be working on the center.

Schwartz also said the building looks out of scale because they are the first to come into an area of single level buildings.

“I know there are several other projects in discussion and possibly coming down the pike just after ours. The CBD will get built up,” she said. “But that’s not me that’s the Planning Board and Zoning Board, Winthrop’s Master Plan.”

People got a little testy.

“Can we agree that the status quo can’t stay the way it is,” Schwartz said. “There’s got to be some common ground. Can we agree that this decrepit, empty eyesore can’t stay like that?”

One lady took exception with the use of the word “decrepit” and she was more concerned about the height of the building at five-stories. Schwartz said they did conduct shadow tests and determined it was not an impact. The neighbors differed. Schwartz added that a shadow test was also done at 35 feet and had almost the same result.

“A lot of people here have their life invested in their business or their houses,” said resident Jack Dowd, who then asked the developer how much money had been invested in the property.

Schwartz confirmed that it is her company’s first multi-family development.

Then the issue of parking came up and resident Mary Mahoney said people are going to have more than one car, they’re going to have visitors.

“There’s no place to park in the center right now,” Mahoney said. “The traffic in the center is disgusting and you want to bring more in? There are too many units.”

Former Town Council President and project abutter Tom Reilly said he has a number of concerns. First, the area is zoned for two and a half stories. He said the Planning Board said the rest of the center is zoned for four stories because they wanted to give relief to abutters.

“A lot of neighbors felt they were not consulted appropriately during this new center zoning,” Reilly said.

He also wanted to know where any overflow parking from the development would go.

“We have optimized parking on site to the best of our ability. There will be overflow and some sort of impact on traffic and parking,” Schwartz said, adding that overflow would be more of a nighttime situation.

Resident Joe Quigley asked what would happen to the site if the developers couldn’t make it work.

“We’re here and we want this to work. I’m not thinking about an option that doesn’t work,” Schwartz said. “If we can’t get the investors in the property sits the way it is, we sell at a loss and you guys pray someone else will come in to town.”

Resident Jean Coughlin said communication from the town, and the lack there of, is why people are so frustrated.

The developer is expected at the next Planning Board in January or February.

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