Malden and Medford could join forces on Malden Hospital site

MALDEN — A joint venture between the communities of Malden and Medford to acquire the Malden Hospital site for $8 million and target most of it for open space and recreational use is in the planning stages, says a representative of an activist group seeking to preserve and protect the last major, undeveloped land tract in Malden.

Last week Friends of Fellsmere Heights vice president Robert Doolittle told members of a Malden City Council ad-hoc committee set up to explore and fast track ideas for the 18-acre site that his advocacy group has been informally talking with individuals from both cities and  representatives from the owner, Hallmark Health on possible plans.

It was the first meeting of the new Hospital Site Development Committee, headed by Ward 3 Councilor John Matheson.

“We should work together with residents of both the Malden and Medford communities to develop a plan for the site,” Matheson said.

“We are trying to come up with a plan that everyone can be excited about,” Doolittle said.

For some time, the Friends of Fellsmere Heights has been advocating a proposal that would preserve 16 acres for open space and public uses, such as community gardens, bike and walking trails, athletic fields and picnic areas. The remaining two acres would be developed for senior housing, a business development center or a community arts center.

Doolittle said strategies to raise the $8 million could include a $2 million payment for development rights from an approved project, coupled with state grants for open and recreational space. Additionally, Community Preservation Acts funds could be applied for and another $2 million would be solicited from local businesses, foundations and civic groups.

This is not the first time an acquisition of the hospital site by the city has been discussed. In 2015 Malden residents voted in a non-binding referendum instructing city officials to come up with $5 million to purchase the site from Hallmark Health. There has been no movement on the city’s part in that direction.

For its part, the members of the Council ad hoc committee centered its discussion on working toward planning a community-wide meeting on the issue, and involving and creating an alliance with Medford city officials and residents.

While the bulk of the 18-acre site is in Malden city limits, a portion of the land is in Medford, which borders the rest of the site with residential area alongside most of the tract. Any development of the site, particularly traffic issues, would affect at least as many Medford residents as those in Malden.

All those at the meeting, including Councilor Matheson and Malden resident Prisco Tammaro, president of the Friends of Fellsmere Heights, stressed that community involvement and residents’ desires for future development are paramount. Malden Council President Debbie DeMaria, who serves on the committee and also lives just two streets away from the site, echoed those sentiments during the recent municipal election runup when asked her position on the future of the hospital site. “We should support what the residents of that neighborhood want to see there,” she said.

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