Swampscott project gets the go ahead

Rendering for Senior Residences at the Machon. (Courtesy Photo)

SWAMPSCOTT — Plans to redevelop the shuttered Machon Elementary School into affordable senior housing have been given the green light from the Zoning Board of Appeals, the final town approval needed for the project.

The Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) approved a comprehensive permit request under Chapter 40B from the developers, B’nai B’rith Housing, for the redevelopment of the property at 35 Burpee Road into 38 affordable units for seniors.

The ZBA held a public hearing on the comprehensive permit request on Tuesday night. The board’s approval was the final step needed before the developers can seek a building permit, the final permit needed for the project.

Town officials said B’nai B’rith Housing, a nonprofit that builds affordable homes for seniors in Greater Boston, will also be applying for tax credits associated with a low-income project.

The state’s 40B housing program allows developers to override local zoning bylaws to increase the stock of affordable housing in municipalities where less than 10 percent of the homes are defined as affordable. In Swampscott, less than four percent of its housing is considered affordable.

Town officials said through 40B, the developer can go through a comprehensive permit process to seek waivers from zoning requirements, which is an alternative to seeking various special permits.

B’nai B’rith plans to improve and reuse the 1920 building and demolish and replace the 1963 addition with a new addition.

The complex would be for seniors 55 or older with a preference for 62 and older. There will be a local preference for the building, with up to 70 percent of the units reserved for Swampscott residents, the maximum local preference allowed by the state.

Eight units are reserved for households at or below 30 percent of the average median income and 30 units are reserved for those at or below 60 percent.

Holly Grace, senior project manager for B’nai B’rith, said there will be an elevator connected to all levels of the building. There will be three floors of apartments. She said the design goal is for the building to be wheelchair accessible.

Grace said three staff people will work regularly in the building, including a resident services coordinator who will help residents access community-based services as needed when they age. She said those services could include home health aides, housekeeping, and wellness activities.

Peter Kane, director of community development, said the ZBA required that B’nai B’rith act on two items that were raised during the meeting. He said the developer was approved to put up temporary signage, but has to come back to the ZBA for final signage approval.

Kane said B’nai B’rith was asked to do a traffic and pedestrian safety analysis, which will be submitted to the neighbors and the Board of Selectmen, and the board can determine what recommendations they would like to implement on Burpee Road. Any improvements to the road would have to be done by the town, he added.

The traffic issue was raised by a Burpee Road resident, Gerard Perry, who said he knows from experience the high amount of cars that go on the road. He said it’s a hill, which gets icy in the winter and was concerned about the number of senior citizens who would be walking around. He said there could be a pedestrian safety issue, and a traffic study should be conducted.

Chris Drucas, attorney for B’nai B’rith, said nothing in the comprehensive permit is affected by the study, which would be looking at the situation on Burpee Road, from the Machon School down to Essex Street for pedestrian, as well as vehicular access. He said his client is supposed to pay for an expert to take a look at that, with the idea of some possible solutions to where there is a bottleneck with people parking on both sides of the street.

Drucas said he was pleased that the comprehensive permit was granted and looks forward to the project moving forward.

“I think it’s a very good concept and I think the town needs it,” Drucas said. “This group has worked very, very hard to give the town something that is a quality project.”

Kane said the town has been working in collaboration with B’nai B’rith for more than a year on the project, and there’s a lot of town support behind it — the project went through Town Meeting and the Board of Selectmen, and the ZBA had a better understanding of what the project was, leading to a smooth process on Tuesday night.

Town Meeting in May 2016 approved the selection and redevelopment proposal from B’nai B’rith Housing. The developer’s proposal is to build Senior Residences at the Machon, a complex that will include 38 one-bedroom units and 48 parking spaces. Each unit would have one parking space and 10 guest spaces would be available.

The town previously entered into a land development agreement with B’nai B’rith. Under the terms of the deal, the nonprofit signed a 99-year ground lease for $500,000. The purchase includes an additional $50,000 for off-site improvements.

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