Councilors Wants Community Input Before Development

WINTHROP – There have been three public meetings regarding potential plans for the old church on Hermon Street, but town council members have made it clear that they cannot vote on a special zoning designation unless plans for the property are clearly made.

Tuesday night several councilors, who also sit on the Public Safety Committee and the Rules and Ordinance subcommittee, told the lawyer and owners of Ocean City Development, LLC that they need to see more detailed plans for 60 Hermon St., the former site of the Winthrop Playmakers and prior to that the First Baptist Church at Winthrop. After an hour and a half, at the urging of Councilor Paul Varone, who also lives on Hermon Street, the developers and neighbors agreed to a community meeting to discuss and view detailed plans.

The developers are seeking a special development overlay district (SDOD) as opposed to the Residential A zone it is in now. The SDOD is meant to encourage preservation, renovation, and reuse of existing non-residential property. Ocean City Development, LLC, made up of Patrick and Sean Butler and William Mondel, purchased the property in July of last year. There is a land area of .27 acres and an assessed value of $449,600.

The council members and about 20 neighbors were presented a plan of the site, but could not get a straight answer on what’s going in. Attorney Richard Lynds said the town’s Planning Board recommended the SDOD. At this stage in their planning the developers have not decided how many units will go in the building. The number of units dictates the number of parking spaces and that has neighbors concerned. Traffic, congestion, school activity and a public bus line also have neighbors concerned.

In order to get the SDOD there needs to be a ¾ vote of the Town Council. Lynds said the SDOD preserves the property. Without the designation it could be razed.

“It’s important to remind people that this is a residential site and something will go there someday,” Lynds said. “If we get the SDOD we will have a lengthy process with the Planning Board.”

He added that the developers intend to keep the historic look of the building. They have to decide if the units are for rent or condos, although they are leaning toward five condos. As Lynds explained the number of parking spaces will depend on the number of bedrooms. Each bedroom equals two parking spaces. So if there are five units there would have to be 10 parking spaces. Preliminary designs show the property could fit 12 spaces, but neighbors wondered about ease of maneuvering the lot and the impact of snow.

“As a councilor I need to hear more,” Varone said. “The number (of units) needs to be spelled out to sit well with me. The parking plan is iffy and this is a historic district. It’s difficult to make a decision. There needs to be broader information.”

“It’s a change in use of the property and I have to vote on this as a member of the Council. But I can’t vote for it if I don’t know what you’re doing,” said Councilor Craig Mael, who was there as an audience member. “Invest in some plans and have it designed out for everyone.”

If developers don’t get the SDOD they could go through the Zoning Board for a variance. Tuesday night meeting ended with the subcommittees tabling the issue until after the community meeting. Once that happens the issue will go back to the subcommittees for a recommendation back to the Town Council. The Planning Board has already recommended a SDOD be granted.

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