ITEM PHOTO BY PAULA MULLER
Pictured is a sketch for the proposed Greenwood Avenue redevelopment project.
By GAYLA CAWLEY
SWAMPSCOTT — Neighbors are not in favor of the proposal from Groom Construction to convert the shuttered Swampscott Middle School on Greenwood Avenue into luxury apartments, with one resident even threatening a lawsuit.
“I feel like the selectmen have not been listening to us,” said Ellie Miller, who lives on Greenwood Avenue. “We are really frustrated. We are willing to go and fight for it. If it means taking the town to court, we are willing to do it.”
The town is already in the midst of pending litigation with Groom Construction, the Salem-based company that originally won approval for condominiums on the site five years ago. That suit 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.
For this project, Groom has proposed 28 luxury apartments or condominiums and three garage outbuildings on the site. A zoning change approved at Town Meeting last May allows for the construction of a single structure with 28 units on the site. Potential developers had to adhere to an affordable housing component. In lieu of not offering any affordable units, Groom is responsible for contributing $150,000 to an affordable housing trust fund, which would be used to contribute to affordable housing elsewhere in town.
Peter Kane, director of community development, presented Groom’s proposal at a community forum on Thursday to residents who packed the cafeteria at Swampscott High School.
“Is this the best we can do?” said Jeff Sprague, a Greenwood Terrace resident. “It’s an amazing piece of property and is this the best we can do? You’ve got to be kidding me … This is the same crappy solution that was determined illegal by a judge. You just made it smaller by a little bit. You just changed the zoning to make it work.”
Sprague argued that the neighbors were never consulted about another option, asking how from a design perspective, a massive structure would fit into a neighborhood of single-family homes.
Residents also questioned if the purchase price, which is zero dollars, with Groom responsible for paying $1.3 million to demolish the building, at no cost to the town, had any correlation to the lawsuit. Kane said the purchase price was related to the cost to remediate the property, with the cost for demolition allotted within Groom’s cost to develop the property.
Drew Epstein, a Rockland Street resident, said he’s secured $73,000 in pledges after sending out an email Wednesday afternoon to about 40 people on the Greenwood Avenue neighborhood list, proposing reusing the former middle school property as parkland.
“I vote for a park,” Epstein wrote in an email. “Other than the ocean, we have so little open space in Swampscott, that a park is the best use of the land. It will cost $1 million to demolish the old school (maybe less). We should tear it down and make soccer fields or basketball courts, and maybe charge for off-street parking or boat storage in the winter. If 1,000 families contribute $1,000 each, we will have the necessary money to do the demolition.”
Epstein said at the forum that the pledges are to keep the property from becoming another development that the town does not need.
“It just does not fit in with the neighborhood,” he said about the proposal.
Groom was one of two respondents to the Request for Proposals released by town officials in September. The other developer, Charing Cross Realty Trust, officially withdrew its proposal Tuesday to build 11 single-family homes on the site. Phil Singleton, a trustee for Charing Cross, cited an uneasiness with a number of decisions made by town officials regarding the selection process as their reason for bowing out.
“There was another person interested in this property and he felt so maligned by the town and he felt everything he proposed was just sort of squashed down and he withdrew his proposal,” said Miller. “He just found it impossible to work with the town.”
The Board of Selectmen is tentatively set to vote on the remaining proposal in late January or early February.
Gayla Cawley can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.