PEABODY — It will be up to the City Council to decide whether the vacant J.B. Thomas Hospital becomes an over-55 community.
The panel is expected to consider whether to amend the zoning from a one- and two-family home district to one that allows multifamily housing.
Hemisphere Development, a Chinese company with an office in Boston, has proposed King’s Residence, 120 studio, one- and two-bedroom condominiums starting at $400,000.
If approved, the hospital on King Street would be demolished. In its place would rise three four-story brick and wood-frame buildings about a foot shorter than the hospital. The parcel would be landscaped and offer parking for 238 vehicles.
Hemisphere Development bought the two- and three-story brick campus in 2017 for $1.9 million from Curahealth Property LLC. They operated the 50-bed facility for a year before they closed, citing a decline in admissions and Medicare enrollments.
At a packed public hearing this week, some neighbors raised concerns about traffic. They said the close-knit Emerson Park neighborhood can’t handle any more congestion.
Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr. said the over-55 development could be the best proposal for the site that’s been empty for two years. He fears if the project is not given the green light, the building will continue to deteriorate and become an eyesore.
“The developer originally proposed as many as 150 condos, now it’s down to 120,” he said. “That’s still lots of units, and there are parking and traffic concerns, so it does cause me some worry.”
Still, he said, if the city fails to approve it, there could be other uses that would be detrimental to neighbors.
“I’ve received calls about potential drug rehab facilities and a marijuana cultivation site, uses that are not right for the neighborhood,” he said. “I think an over-55 community could work, but it has to be the right number of units and traffic improvements must be made.”
The mayor acknowledged that some neighbors want nothing to be built, or prefer a park or another medical use at the hospital.
“But there hasn’t been that kind of interest,” Bettencourt said.
City Council President Jon Turco said while he understands the neighbors’ concerns, over-55 homes could be the best solution for the hospital site.
“Given the options, I feel like it’s the best one available,” he said.
But Councilor-at-Large Anne Manning Martin isn’t so sure.
“I share the concern of neighbors who have lots of fears that the quality of life and the culture of their neighborhood will change if we allow multi-family housing there,” she said. “I haven’t decided, but my wish would be to keep the zoning unchanged.”