State OKs 40B Project Adjacent To Beatrice Circle; 12 Total Units, 3 Affordable

Photo: The title page of the 91 Beatrice Cir. project

Despite misgivings with aspects of the design and massing, the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development nevertheless approved a controversial 40B project to allow 12 rental units to be constructed on a half-acre lot adjacent to Beatrice Circle on Belmont Hill.

In an eight-page letter released Nov. 3, DHCD Undersecretary Jennifer Maddox said the application by 91 Beatrice Circle LLC “is sufficient to show compliance” with the state’s criteria for the construction of much needed affordable housing.

The developer has two years to seek a comprehensive permit from the Belmont Zoning Board of Appeals.

The state’s action brings an end to a year-long process that began when the developer – made up of members of the Tamposi family – purchased a 2,700 sq.-ft. single-family home located off of Frontage Road between Park Avenue and Pleasant Street for $1.4 million.

The state’s action came as a disappointment to the Select Board, and abutting neighbors who contend the housing project was an intrusion.

“While there were some parts of the decision that I found helpful, I was disappointed, honestly, with the bulk of it,” said Select Board Chair Roy Epstein, who led the town’s efforts to halt and amend the project by authoring two letters pointing out a myriad of problems generated by the developer’s first set of designs

Epstein said the state continues to ignore the two major concerns of town and neighbors: overall density of the two-building project and allowing the development to be 10 feet from the rear property line.

After reviewing the initial 16-unit plan for the site released in June, Epstein penned a list of concerns the town held about the design and sent it to MassHousing. In the view of the town, the proposal was:

  • Too dense and imposing for the surrounding neighborhood.
  • The project requires a retaining wall to a similar height as Fenway Park’s Green Monster.
  • It does not provide the necessary space to accommodate fire and police vehicles.
  • It lacks open space and adequate parking spaces. (“A large number of children who will have a parking lot to play on,” said Epstein.
  • The site would increase traffic congestion.
  • The plans did not address drainage and stormwater issues.

After Epstein’s initial letter, the development team, in response to discussions with MassHousing, in late August reduced the number of units by four to the current dozen with three-set aside as affordable for those earning 80 percent of the median income in greater Boston. That would be an income of $96,250 for a family of four.

The state said the changes reduced the project’s massing, improved circulation within the development and helped with the transition from a single-family neighborhood.

Epstein’s second letter pointing to continued flaws in the project did not appear to move those at MassHousing who signed off on the project to move forward.

“It is now up to the Zoning Board of Appeals … the role of the Select Board, I’m afraid, has ended,” he said.

In its approval letter, MassHousing did set down seven concerns that it expects the development team will deal with during the ZBA process:

  • Be in compliance with the town’s stormwater and drainage issues that could affect abutting properties.
  • Respond to offsite traffic and parking concerns.
  • Fully comply with public safety standards for emergency vehicles.
  • Be ready to discuss ways of softening the project’s massing and design, reduce light pollution and support pedestrian access.
  • Work to increase open space on the site.

The Select Board’s Adam Dash said the state’s extensive list of concerns is not the ringing approval for a project, which points to a possible opening from MassHousing to the residents.

“It did provide a roadmap for the Zoning Board of Appeals to focus on certain areas which I thought is helpful,” said Dash.

While some residents have indicated that there could be a legal challenge echoing many of the same themes as the town, history shows that unless the project is significantly flawed, it’s unlikely an individual suit will be successful.

Epstein said after this experience, Town Meeting needs to give more thought to the future of affordable housing developments because 91 Beatrice will not be likely the final multiple unit development in Belmont.

“We need to create more affordable housing on our terms so that people don’t come and put it in on their terms,” he said.

Belmont Street Undergoes Restoration, July 6-10

Photo: Map of Belmont Street to be restored next week

Approximately third-quarters of a mile of Belmont Street will be under construction beginning Monday, July 6 to restore the roadway which was dug up late last year.

Bannon Paving of Hyde Park will be grinding and overlaying this large second on Belmont Street from the Watertown line on Lexington Street to Common Street for the entire week from July 6 to July 10.

The work will repair the street impacted by the installation of new PVC gas-main installed by National Grid/Feeney Brothers late last construction season to connect the new Toll Brothers development in Cushing Square.

Belmont Saves Millions Waiting To Sell $100M Bonds On Middle/High School, Police HQ Projects

Photo: The Belmont Police Headquarters renovation.

Patience is a virtue and, in the case of Belmont, a way to pocket a few million dollars.

By holding off selling more than $103.5 million in municipal bonds on a pair of building projects from March to May, Belmont will reap a $6 to $7 million savings to taxpayers, according to Belmont’s Town Treasurer Floyd Carman as the Belmont Select Board voted to approve the bond sale at its remote meeting on Monday, June 1.

Originally, the sale of the triple-A rated, 30-year municipal bond to finance a portion of the $240 million Belmont Middle and High School project and the Police Headquarters renovation was schedule for mid-March. At the time, the financial markets began reeling due to the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Initial interest was anemic; just two firms showed any

Rather than chance an auction during rising volatility in the market, Carman pulled the paper and proceeded to reaffirm the town’s top status with the credit rating agencies.

Due to its long-standing policy of conservative budgeting and spending, a small default rate by homeowners and a willingness to payoff long-standing debt and keeping cash reserves – free cash – above what agencies require, Belmont is seen as having a high level of creditworthiness resulting in the coveted top ranking.

Belmont is one of just 11 municipalities in Massachusetts and one of fifty nationwide in which two of the three rating agencies – Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s – declared its “paper” at a AAA rate, the highest possible rating that may be assigned to an issuer’s bonds.

“We are truly in a category of our own,” Carman told Select Board Member Tom Caputo.

By retreating to the sidelines, Belmont could afford to bide its time toward a recovery and a more receptive market.

By late May, according to Carman, the number of bidders drawn to Belmont’s triple-A muni spiked to 10 and the resulting auction resulted in a “fantastic rate” of 2.178 percent – sold to JP Morgan Securities – a whopping 1.124 percent decrease from the 3.302 percent the town received at last year’s $111 million bond sale to support the middle/high school.

“Let me thank Carman for just a wonderful job … bringing these bonds to market and achieving a terrific result that the auction,” said Select Board Chair Roy Epstein who noted the sale occurred during the depressed state of the bond market in the last few months.

Developer Seeking 16 Townhouses Off Frontage Road On Belmont Hill

Photo: An architectural rendering of the proposed 16 townhouse project off Frontage Road on Belmont Hill. (EMBARC)

The email message to this media outlet was a call to arms: “How can someone even think about placing an apartment complex in our neighborhood of homes? How?”

The consternation from at least one Belmont Hill resident comes as a Florida-based developer is proposing to build 16 townhouse units on approximately half an acre of land at 91 Beatrice Cir., located off of Frontage Road between Park Avenue and Pleasant Street.

The proposed project will highlight the Select Board’s Monday, June 1 remote virtual meeting at 7 p.m.

The development team has applied for a comprehensive permit under Chapter 40B, the sometimes contentious state law enacted in 1969 to promote the construction of low- and moderate-income housing.

The law allows developers to skirt local zoning regulations – such as for density and lot restrictions – if 20 to 25 percent of the project units have long-term affordability restrictions and the town’s housing stock is less than 10 percent affordable. The development team is setting aside four units as affordable to households earning 80 percent of the median income around Boston.

And Comprehensive Land will be seeking waivers from 10 zoning bylaws – including restrictions on attached apartments in the SR-A district, the requirement that a nonconforming development undergoes the Planning Board’s Design and Site Plan Review, minimum lot area, open space limited, yard setbacks and lot coverage, to name a few – and from the town’s stormwater management and control bylaw.

In a letter to Select Board Chair Roy Epstein dated May 13, MassHousing, the state agency that oversees 450B proposals, has already begun the process of reviewing the application and seeking information from the town on moving forward with the project.

For the developer, this townhouse project will allow moderate-income families the opportunity to live in Belmont.

“Through Chapter 40B’s streamlined permitting, the proposed project creates affordable rental opportunities, with larger units that have the potential to provide much-needed family housing,” said the developer in its application to MassHousing. “The average single home sales price in Belmont over the past twelve months exceeded $1,250,000.”

Comprehensive Land Holding, LLC – made up of Joseph, Jacob and Stephen Tamposi on this project – of the Gulf Coast community of Hernando has long roots in New England (Samuel Tamposi Sr. made the family fortune in real estate and business holdings in southern New Hampshire) constructing upscale homes in upscale communities such as Wayland while expanding to the Sunshine State where it built “our family’s flagship community.

The Tamposi’s 40B project in Belmont is not their first in the area. In fact, the family has made quite a splash down in Milton where it’s proposing two large scale affordable projects totaling 252 units with 380 parking spaces.

The developers purchased the existing structure – a seven-room brick ranch built 72 years ago – after a wave of activity as the property was sold three times in the past three years. The 2,700 sq.-ft. structure was bought for $1.4 million, a cool $300,000 over the assessed value.

The project consists of a pair of buildings – laid out east to west on the lot – each with eight connected wood-framed townhouses. The southern row of housing will consist of three bedrooms in three stories, 1,480 sq.-ft townhouses; the building closest to Frontage Road will be four bedroom, four stories at 1,800 sq.-ft.

There will be a parking space inside each townhouse and 10 additional spaces for overflow parking. The lot is situated across from a number 84 MBTA bus stop with access to Alewife Red Line station.

The unnamed Belmont project is following a decade long development trend of building residential apartment and condominium blocks along Route 2 inbound towards Cambridge. Multi-unit blocks now dot the landscape from the Belmont line – including the Royal Belmont – to a recently opened 320-unit apartment complex where the Lanes & Games bowling alley and the Gateway Motel once stood.

As FY ’21 Tax Rate Falls, Average Tax Bill Jumps 11% As High School Debt Exclusion Kicks In

Photo: The Assessors before the Select Board (from left) Martin Millane, Robert Reardon and Charles Laverty III

Belmont homeowners knew the day of reckoning was coming.

And that day will be July 1, 2020 when the dual impact of the successful vote on the $213 million debt exclusion to build the new Middle and High School and continued skyrocketing property values will result in one of the largest annual property tax increases in recent memory, according to Robert Reardon, the long-time chair of the Belmont Board of Assessors.

“This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but maybe the amount will,” said Reardon.

The red hot Belmont property market contributed in pushing up the “average” single family home value (made up of the sum of all home values divided by the number of homes) to $1,285,000 with property values on single family homes increased a whopping 18 percent in the past 12 months outpacing all other categories such as condos (6 percent) and multi-families (10 percent), Reardon told a special meeting of the Select Board held Wednesday, Dec. 18.

“[Belmont] remains a desireable place to live and it has a good school system. And while it’s very close to Boston, you can still get a good yard and a garage while in Cambridge for the same price you’ll likely get off street parking,” said Reardon whose day job is as director of Cambridge’s Assessing Department.

The total annual taxes on that “average” house comes to $14,135, an 11 percent increase from the $12,720 set the previous fiscal year, with half of the $1,415 increase attributed to the debt exclusion passed by voters in November, 2018, said Reardon, who attended the meeting with his fellow board members Charles Laverty, III and Martin Millane.

Fiscal
Year
Tax
Rate
Avg.
Assess
Avg.
Taxes
Avg.
Taxes %
Increase
Median
Assess
Median
Taxes
201612.90$928,000$11,6566.56$848,000$10,560
201712.69$942,000$11,9542.56$856,000$10,863
201812.15$1,003,750$12,1962.02$910,000$11,057
201911.67$1,090,000$12,7204.30$997,000$11,635
202011.00$1,285,000$14,13511.12$1,179,000$12,969

The rest of the increase consists of the annual two-and-a-half percent ceiling on total property taxes the town can levy and new growth which came in at $1.1 million.

Reardon also noted this year’s debt exclusion only covers the first half of the construction funding with a second, equally large increase coming in fiscal 2021.

Reardon came before the board to reveal the town’s property tax rate for the coming fiscal year – which begins on July 1, 2020 – at $11 per $1,000 assessed value, a reduction of two-thirds of a buck from the fiscal ’19 rate of $11.67.

The total assessed value of property in Belmont shot up to $9.210 billion from $7.947 billion in fiscal ’19.

As in past years, the assessors recommended, and the selectmen agreed to, a single tax classification and no real estate exemptions. Reardon said Belmont does not have anywhere near the amount of commercial and industrial space (at must be least a minimum of 20 percent, said Reardon) to creating separate tax rates for residential and commercial properties. Belmont’s commercial base is 3.9 percent of the total real estate.

“There’s always this misconception that if you have a split rate it’s going to be beneficial for homeowners but that’s not the case,” said Reardon.

Housing Trust Applaud Increase In Affordable Units At ‘Final’ McLean Parcel

Photo: Northland Residential President and CEO John Dawley

You know you are doing something “right” when the same group that jeered you earlier is now cheering.

That’s what occurred at the Select Board’s meeting Monday, Nov. 18 after Northland Residential President and CEO John Dawley presented a revised residential development proposal at one of largest parcels remaining in Belmont’s McLean Hospital.

After coming under fire for a proposal critics called a “cut and paste” of its three existing developments at McLean, Northland’s revised blueprint for its fourth development in Zone 3 boosting the number of affordable units as well as provide housing to a broader spectrum of both income and population.

“I’m here tonight to try and be responsive to the voices that spoke at various meetings back in March on a project that appears to be responsive to the concerns that were articulated,” said Dawley Monday night.

The announcement brought praise from the representatives of the Belmont Housing Trust which has been a driving force in expanding economical living units in town.

“I’m really excited about this proposal and this is, indeed, a big win for Belmont,” said Trust Co-Chair Rachel Heller.

In January, Dawley’s firm presented to the town plans to build a “senior directed, independent living residential community” on nearly 13 acres of land set aside for housing when Town Meeting approved a mixed-use development program with McLean two decades ago in July 1999.

Similar to the Northland’s Woodlands development on the site, the project consisted of 34 large 2-to-3 bedroom townhouses with a sales price of upwards of $1.5 million along with 91 “flat” 1-to-2 bedroom apartments located in four-story buildings.

That first proposal was widely panned by affordable housing advocates and in March was quickly shelved by the Belmont Planning Board as it deemed the project was unlikely to pass Town Meeting’s two-thirds muster to alter six zoning bylaws required by the town.

“It was the belief, mistaken as it may have been, that replicating what I did on those parcels would be appropriate for Zone 3,” he said “I left on March 13, wounded but not dead.”

Fast forward nearly eight months and Dawley came before the Select Board after meeting with the town and housing advocates who asked Northland to take its plan “and think of it in a different way.” He spoke to his McLean partners telling them “I think I can make this work.”

The new proposal will be of the same scale and massing as presented in March but the project’s programming has been changed resulting in a broader income and age component, said Dawley:

  • The original 125 units has been increased to 144 total units with 40 townhouses and 104 apartments located in a pair of structures.
  • The garden style units will all be rentals, smaller than originally designed as condominiums. There will be no age restriction on the units A quarter of the apartments, 26, will be under the town’s exclusionary housing allocation.
  • The townhouses – which will be senior directed – will have reduced square-footage to lower the initial price with five or six units set aside as affordable.
  • The project will commit to LEED Certifiable Design Standard while focusing on “electrification.”
  • Traffic in and out of the new residential with a traffic light at Olmsted and Pleasant across from Star Market. There will also be shuttle bus from the area to a transportation hub such as Waverley Square and/or Alewife T station.

While Dawley cautioned the proposal is in its genesis and will undergo changes and “times where I’ll have to say ‘no’ to requests’,” the response from housing campaigners and the Select Board was enthusiastic and positive, as those in attendance gave Dawley a round of applause at the end of his presentation.

“I really appreciate that rather than walk away, they chose to engage with us and work with us,” said the Select Board’s Adam Dash.

“Northland’s proposed development at McLean will expand opportunities for seniors and families to have an affordable place to call home here in Belmont,” said Heller, whose day job is running the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association, which encourage the production and preservation of housing that is affordable to low- and moderate-income families.

“Providing more affordable homeownership and rental opportunities is key to meeting the needs of people who live, work, or go to school here as well as ensuring that Belmont is a welcoming and inclusive community,” she added.

Town Issues Cushing Sq. Starbucks Occupancy Permit

Photo: The location of the new Starbucks in town.

The Belmont Office of Community Development issued a certificate of occupancy to Starbucks Coffee Company on Tuesday, June 19, to allow its cafe at 110 Trapelo Rd. to open for business, said Glenn Clancy, the town’s director of community development.

“It will be opening up any day now,” Clancy told the Belmontonian at the School Committee meeting at the Chenery Middle School.

The cafe is located on the ground floor of the Winslow building in the Bradford development which occupies the block surrounding Common Street, Trapelo Road, Belmont Street, and Williston Road. The apartment/retail/parking project is being built by Toll Brothers Apartment Living.

The 42 seat store staffed with 25 to 35 employees will have approximately 20 off-street parking spaces adjacent to the location.

While the store will be open daily from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., the company will likely ask the town to approve a closing time of 10 p.m. which was permitted in the special permit approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Planning Board Shelves McLean Residential Project As Affordability Takes Center Stage

Photo: The Planning Board in session.

A proposed 125 unit residential development on one of the last large parcels of open space in Belmont was shelved by the Belmont Planning Board as questions of affordability, density and other issues were raised by residents and board members.

“We don’t have the time” to satisfactory review the proposal before a Town Meeting vote, said Board Chair Chuck Clark at the Thursday, March 14 meeting as the board voted unanimously to not bring six bylaw changes to the town’s annual legislative gathering.

The postponement is a victory for affordable housing campaigners who contend the McLean Hospital Zone 3 project is the one best and likely final opportunities to bring a substantial number of accessible units into the town’s housing inventory.

“Let’s slow this down so we all can get to and work together,” said Rachel Heller, co-chairman of the Belmont Housing Trust, which has been advocating for greater income diverse housing through public policy – securing the town’s Housing Production Plan – and with growing activism. 

The delay is a blow to property owner McLean Hospital and Northland Residential, the proposed developer, which were seeking a positive vote at the annual Town Meeting in May to expedite the construction of what a Northland executive called an “age directed” project on nearly 13 acres of land set aside for housing when Town Meeting approved a mixed-use development plan with McLean nearly two decades ago in July 1999.

While the proponents pointed to the success of the nearby Northland-developed The Woodlands as being replicated on Zone 3, board vice chair Stephen Pinkerton said: “there are a lot of issues in terms of density and interest in affordable housing that need to be vetted among a half a dozen entities in town.”

“This won’t pass [Town Meeting] by a two-thirds majority” as Pinkerton motioned to the residents filling the Selectmen’s Room, suggesting the process be “paused.” 

Clark told the Belmontonian the Planning Board will ask the Belmont Board of Selectmen to create a task force with “everybody” including the Housing Trust, residents in addition to McLean “to figure this out.”

“I see this come back to Town Meeting in the fall,” said Clark, referring to an anticipated Special Town Meeting that typically takes place in November. “I suspect we’ll come to an agreement, it will just take a while.”

While campaigners did not have specific numbers or percentages of units, advocates said they are available to assist McLean and Northland either by introducing established affordable developers to partner with the proponents or work independently.

“A task force will create the opportunity for all these voices to be heard and then really think how to develop something that’s beneficial for McLean meets the town’s needs,” said Heller.

The question now hanging over the stalled development is if McLean and Northland will accept a new round of negotiations that could result in a greater affordability component.

McLean and the developer both noted in their presentations Thursday night the nearly 13 acres is currently zoned to accommodate approximately 500 apartment-style units in a high-density complex that includes buildings upwards to six stories tall and generating considerable vehicle traffic.

But it’s unlikely McLean would go that route and the developer admitted the “bankability” of such large assisted living/care complexes has waned considerably in the past decade.

The development – located on the southern ridge of the hospital close to Star Market and Pleasant Street – would be a “senior directed independent living residential community” consisting of 34 large 2 to 3 bedroom townhouses with a sales price of upwards of $1.5 million similar to those in the adjacent Woodlands along with 91 “flat” 1 to 2 bedroom apartments located in four-story buildings. The complex would provide town coffers with $1.6 million in added tax revenue.

Under a revised plan, 20 apartments would be designated “affordable” for those making 80 percent of the area median income (for a two-person family, an 80 percent AMI would be $63,050), an increase from a proposed 9 units that target buyers with an AMI as high as 120 percent ($94,550 for a two-family household). 

When the meeting was thrown open to public comment, it was quickly evident that despite a doubling of the number of affordable units in Zone 3, housing advocates felt, as Heller noted, “we can do a lot better.”

With Belmont still 337 units short of the state’s goal of 10 percent affordable housing. McLean is “one of the few if the only way for the town to get to that 10 percent,” said Heller, who said that rather than townhouses, the community needs more rental units as more than 40 percent of Belmont renters are “cost-burdened” as housing costs take more than a third of their income.

Gloria Leipzig of the Belmont Housing Authority noted the 40-unit Waverley Woods, designated in the 1999 agreement for low and moderate income housing, was built on 1.4 acres, “eight times” the space being proposed for the Zone 3 development.

“Certainly more than 34 large townhouses and 90 [apartments] can be built on this property,” she said.

Squandering The Potential 

As the land was “laid aside for specific community needs,” once a development proposal is adopted, “we can’t take this zoning back,” said Joseph Zarro, pastor of Belmont’s Plymouth Church. “I think we’d be squandering the potential of this land” under the proposed project.”

One resident commented on a statement by a Northland executive who said the new townhouses that would likely sell for $1.5 million was built “for folks that look like me and you.” Elizabeth Lipson of the Housing Trust said she is sensitive to “dog whistle” comments that housing in Belmont should be built with a certain income level in mind.

“One of the objectives of many of us is to diversify our town by income and … also by race,” said Lipson, who found the comment “upsetting.” 

Throwing another wrench into the works was a legal ruling brought forth by attorney Roger Colton who noted a 2002 ruling by the state’s Land Court against the town’s Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals (American Retirement Corp vs  et al) limiting both boards “to make its own interpretation of what was ‘best’ for the town” which should be left “to the legislative process.”

With issues of housing diversity, density and a sticking point that the bylaw changes would benefit the current proposal but not alter the existing zoning map, leaving the possibility of a future developer to build to the approved level of nearly 500 units, Clark said there was no chance the board could resolve any of the outstanding issues by the end of the month.

“There are too many moving parts,” he said.

Nearly lost in the residential development discussion was McLean’s earlier proposal to construct a campus for children and adolescence education and a research and development center on an adjacent parcel located to the northeast. Known as Zone 4, the development will not start for upwards to five years as the hospital raises funds for the project, said Michele Gougeon, McLean’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Eventually, the site will include a combined academic and residential building and a “small” Research and Development building which will fit inside a 150,000 sq.-ft. envelop.

Clark noted in past agreements, due to the R&D portion is being reduced by more than half of the original, the town could be obligated to pay McLean for that change, a statement Gougeon said would need to be reviewed.

By the end of the night, Clark believed there will be a solution to the issues face all parties.

“I think McLean can do better. I think Belmont can do better,” said Clark.

The Bradford Update: Starbucks Back In Cushing Sq. In May, First Units For Sale This Year

Photo: The plans for the Bradford currently under construction.

Expect the return of $4 cappuccinos as the Starbucks returns to Cushing Square this spring, according to a press release dated Feb. 1 from Otto Weiss, project manager of The Bradford for Toll Brothers Apartment Living.

Weiss’ update on the construction of the largest commercial/housing development in Belmont focused on the progress made on the three structures being built in the heart of Cushing Square. 

Winslow (built on the former municipal parking lot on Trapelo and Williston roads)

Work on the interior and exterior finishes of the Winslow is underway in anticipation of the building being completed in May. The contractor has started work on the Starbucks space and expect to have the coffee shop open in May as well. Sidewalks and outdoor areas around the Winslow will be completed as will the vehicle access between the Pomona and Winslow. 

Hyland (located at Belmont and Common streets)

At the Hyland, the framing of the residential floors has begun and construction will soon start on the roofing and exterior work with the anticipate that the Hyland will be complete later in 2019. 

Pomona (at Common Street and Trapelo Road)

Work continues on the structural steel and wood framing of the Pomona which will have 35,000 sq.-ft. of commercial space. The contractor is concurrently working on the area between the Pomona and Hyland and anticipate finishing the segment in the coming months. The Pomona will be the last of the building to be completed and will be finished in early 2020. 

For residents that have inquiries on leasing information, Weiss said Toll Brothers is not quite ready to start the process “but we will send out information when the time comes.”

 

 

Developer Proposes Senior-ish Housing At McLean; Residents Push Added Affordability

Photo: A photo/map of the “senior driven” development on McLean Hospital.
A luxury residential developer came before the Belmont Planning Board on Tuesday, Jan. 16 with a proposal to construct a major senior-ish project on the McLean Hospital property comprised of 34 townhouses and 70 garden-style units in a parcel zoned 20 years ago for comprehensive long-term elder care.
While West Concord-based Northland Residential (which developed the 121-unit The Woodlands on Belmont Hill) contends the proposal is a better fit than an earlier but failed 482 unit, 600,000 sq.-ft. project approved in 2001, several residents and members of the town’s Housing Trust are already pushing for a greater emphasis on affordability that would serve an aging Belmont population.
“There are 1,000 cost burdened seniors living in Belmont and that number is expected to grow,” said Gloria Leipzig of the Belmont Housing Authority and the Housing Trust. “There is a need for affordable senior housing and I think we need to … see this as an opportunity and try and figure out a way to increase the likelihood of more affordable housing on the site.
Flanked by Michele Gougeon, McLean’s chief operating officer, Northland President and CEO John Dawley said the yet unnamed project will be “senior directed” that is unlike the “Continuing Care Retirement Community” concept which includes independent and assisted living as well as nursing home care that the parcel is currently zoned.
“It will have a floor plan that is attractive to 55-years and older,” said Dawley.
Created on November 1999 after Town Meeting approved new zoning for the property that May, a memorandum of agreement between the town and McLean rezoned 238 acres into specific uses including housing, open space, research facilities and senior living.
Since the agreement, most of the land approved for redevelopment would become part of The Woodlands at Belmont Hill, a townhouse development. One of the two final open parcels is the senior-oriented Zone 3 consists of nearly 13 acres near the corner of South Pleasant and Trapelo and a similarly-sized Zone 4 set aside for Research and Development.
Gougeon told the board the hospital will develop Zone 4 into an 86,000 sq.-ft. child and adolescence academic center and then later add a small R&D center. But the parcel’s build-out “will take some time” as the hospital will need to fund raise before building can commence, she said.

In Zone 3, the Northland plans call for 104 independent, non-age restricted units. Thirty-four will be two-to-three bedroom townhouses like those in the Woodlands and two four-story “flat style” buildings with seven to nine units per floor consisting of either two bedrooms or one bedroom and den garden-style apartments. There will be senior or elderly care services as part of the development, just grounds and maintenance staff. Under the current plan, the affordable housing component will remain at nine percent of total units which calculates to nine units.
The development would be situated on the ridge above a proposed assisted living facility along South Pleasant Street. The location has utilities in place and will be ready to be built. As proposed, the completed project will bring in an additional $1.4 million into town coffers, not including permits and fees. 
Dawley said the demographics of those who’ll be purchasing these homes – mostly those 55 and over with no dependent children living with them –  show that they aren’t necessarily downsizing, most will be buying without a mortgage and own a second home elsewhere. Similar townhouse units in the Woodlands run in the $1.2 million range.
The project will need two-thirds approval from Town Meeting as the complex alters existing town zoning requirements. But Dawley said those changes to the bylaw will be “very modest …” as the Northland plan “comports with the zoning very very well.” 
The next step for the board will be “a deep dive” into the zoning and debate the merits of those changes, said Board Chair Chuck Clark, noting the “devil’s in the details.” He also said the changes to the zoning will be presented to the annual Town Meeting as two distinct amendments.
One area that many in the audience of the nearly filled the Board of Selectmen’s room hoped the board and developer would discuss was the project’s affordability component. For Roger Colton, a former member of the Housing Trust, Northland is seeking significant changes to the current bylaw “but for affordable housing, which stays the same.”

The nine units set aside for affordable housing and the acceptance of owners making up to 120 percent of area median income” is unacceptable,” said Colton.
Rachel Heller (who is the CEO of the affordable housing advocacy organization CHAPA) said the Housing Trust is excited by the start of the planning process “because there is a lot that we can do together. McLean wants to be able to sell this land … the town needs more affordable housing so let’s put our heads together and work on it and let us use [the state’s Local Initiative Program] and really maximize the amount of affordable homes that we get out of [the development].”
The Local Initiative helps residential developers and towns develop a plan where a certain percentage of the units are affordable so a project can obtain zoning approval.