January 3, 2017
By GAYLA CAWLEY
SWAMPSCOTT — Charing Cross Realty Trust has withdrawn its proposal to convert the shuttered Swampscott Middle School on Greenwood Avenue into 11 single-family homes, leaving only Groom Construction, the other developer, which proposed luxury apartments.
“Over the past several weeks, we have become increasingly uneasy with a number of decisions made by town officials regarding this selection process and believe that it would be in the best interest of Charing Cross to withdraw rather than to continue with a process that causes us concern,” Phil Singleton, trustee of Charing Cross, wrote in a letter to Naomi Dreeben, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen.
Groom Construction, the Salem-based company that originally won approval for condominiums on the site five years ago, has proposed 28 luxury apartments or condominiums and three garage outbuildings on the site. Representatives from Groom wrote in their proposal that it was their preference that the units be offered as condominiums to buyers should market conditions be favorable.
Peabody-based Charing Cross and Groom Construction responded to the Request for Proposals (RFP) released by town officials in September.
Singleton said the decision was made because town officials were unwilling to publicize bid prices from either developer, which he said should be public information. He said he was also troubled by the town’s “ill-conceived” plan to have Peter Kane, director of community development, present the proposals to the neighborhood during an upcoming community forum, rather than the developers themselves.
“We just didn’t like the way they were doing the procedure and felt they did a couple of things that were against the rules,” Singleton said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “We thought about it over the weekend and decided this morning that we wouldn’t go ahead.”
The community forum is scheduled for Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Swampscott High School cafeteria, where Kane will present the remaining proposal.
“Developers obviously have every right to withdraw,” Kane said. “I couldn’t necessarily say I’m surprised or not surprised. We were holding the forum to get an idea of what residents felt on the two proposals. We’ll still use this forum to get feedback on the lone proposal.”
Dreeben said after Charing Cross withdrew, there was only one other option, but still believes the community forum is necessary. She said the selectmen are scheduled to vote on a proposal for the reuse of the Greenwood Avenue school on Jan. 18.
“But yeah, that makes the decision pretty easy then,” she said. “We would need to vote … but it looks fairly clear that if there’s only one proposal, then that would be the one as long as it meets our criteria.”
The zoning change approved at Town Meeting last May allows for construction of a single structure with 28 units on the site. Potential developers had to adhere to an affordable housing component.
Groom originally won approval for a different condominium project on the site five years ago, and is in the midst of pending litigation with the town, which has to be resolved before the town is able to proceed with the sale of the property. The lawsuit stemmed from the initial zoning change approved at Town Meeting, which allowed for a multi-family unit on the parcel. That was overturned by Massachusetts Land Court after neighbors filed suit in 2014, and zoning was reverted to single-family housing.
Singleton wrote in his letter that town officials wrote in the RFP that potential developers must adhere to a residential reuse of the property that is at a “scale appropriate to the site, consistent with neighborhood characteristics and in compliance with existing zoning.”
At previous public forums, neighbors voiced concerns that the potential size of a building allowed by the zoning change would not fit in with the neighborhood.
“While we presented our proposal as a neighborhood-friendly option, the (Town Selection) Committee’s insistence that there was no way to determine if we were neighborhood friendly because there was there was ‘no consensus’ in the neighborhood as to the scale and design of a proposed development left us believing that a significant chasm exists between what the neighbors are saying and what the town is hearing,” Singleton wrote.
Gayla Cawley can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.