Local Government and Politics, News

Saugus shoots down proposal for development near Central Street mill

SAUGUS — The Planning Board shot down a proposal to build a residential and commercial development beside a Central Street mill.

The proposal was for a $5 million mixed-use development beside 222 Central Storage.

A three-story apartment building would have been constructed on the right of the old mill-turned-storage facility with 26 one-bedroom, townhouse-style apartments, eight two-bedroom apartments and parking beneath. Three of the units would have been affordable.

An office building at 228 Central St. would be torn down to make room for 2,000 square feet of commercial space. The ground floor was proposed to be a cafe with additional commercial space underneath.

Designers drew inspiration from neighboring Saugus Iron Works, from the color scheme of red and black matching the Iron Works house to the appearance of the chimney.

Steve Boccelli and his father, Joseph, went before the board last week with a team of developers for a site plan review of the project.

After more than two hours of debate, attorney Jesse Schomer, who was hired as special counsel for the town, advised the board to deny the site plan approval “on the basis that the board is unable to make a finding that the proposed development is in conformance with the zoning bylaw” based on the application and “the failure of the applicant to apply for and obtain required special permits and other relief.”

Schomer, who called the application premature, outlined a number of deficiencies in the plan. If the property owners opt into the Historic Mills Mixed Use Overlay District, zoning would no longer allow use of the existing storage facility.

The plan, as outlined, violates the zoning bylaw by not meeting setback requirements, he said.

“The third concern that we have is the number of special permits that this application would require,” said Schomer. “I don’t want to go into specifics, but I will tell you that you can’t count them on one hand.”

The board followed the attorney’s advice with a 4-0 vote in favor of denying the application.

Before the vote, about a dozen residents armed with notes, public documents, and memories of the mill’s past lives, spoke out about their concerns with the proposal. Though many agreed that the project appeared attractive, they had concerns about health and contamination, traffic, and the overpopulation of the neighborhood.

Lothrop Street resident Edward Jeffrey grew up near the mill and remembers playing on the grounds as a child.

“I didn’t expect to make any comments on health issues,” said Jeffrey. “I’m not an expert on that. But, as I said, I was a river rat. I used to love to play along here, along with my friends. Well, three of my friends died of cancer before they were 23 years old. Does that make it a cluster? I don’t know.”

One friend lost a leg before he was diagnosed with bone cancer, said Jeffrey. The other two lived side by side near the river and died of brain cancer and leukemia.

The mill was built in 1812 and more than 100 years later, it was used to treat leather, said Ron Wallace, a Town Meeting member. Solvents and petroleum distillates contaminated the building by the 1980s, he said.

“I played in there all through the ’70s and ’80s,” said Wallace, who described seeing brown foam in the river.

Town Meeting member Ann Devlin questioned whether the Boccellis would tell future residents that they were living on contaminated grounds.

Steve Boccelli and his attorney, Bennet Heart, said there is an activity and use limitation on a portion of the property, but it’s not the part of the property where they would build.

The team can appeal the decision with the town’s Board of Appeals.

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