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Developer baffled by Lynnfield’s rejection of over-55 development

An artist's rendering of a duplex Brookstone Development wanted to build on Main Street, Lynnfield.
An artist's rendering of a duplex Brookstone Development wanted to build on Main Street, Lynnfield. (Brookstone Development)

LYNNFIELD One week after voters rejected a senior housing development on Main Street, the developer is still shaking his head.

“It was quite a shock,” said Angus Bruce. “I don’t know what I did wrong, why wouldn’t Lynnfield want a 55-plus community?”

The tally wasn’t even close with 340 against and 174 in favor. With a vote of 66 to 34 percent, it was well below the two-thirds needed for passage.

The issue before Town Meeting was whether to allow elder housing at 1414 Main St. and two adjacent parcels. A “yes” vote would have changed the zoning from single-family to senior housing.

Bruce has a purchase and sale agreement to buy the 22-acre property. Under his proposal, 56 condominiums for seniors would have been built.

While two town boards embraced the project, voters were not swayed. The plan was deep-sixed after more than an hour of contentious debate.

“I was confident I would get the two-thirds required, and if I lost, it would have been by just a few votes,” Bruce said.

In a 15-minute presentation by his team, Bruce made the case for senior housing. He said the units would bring as much as $600,000 annually in real estate taxes; road maintenance and trash collection would be privately paid for; no children would be added to the schools, and the development would provide Lynnfield seniors who want to downsize an opportunity to stay in town.

But Kenneth Peterson, a longtime upper Main Street resident, led the opposition. He said the project and its dozens of cars would exacerbate the street that has a history of traffic accidents.

Speaker after speaker said they prefer single-family homes which, they argued, would have less impact on traffic.

Voters rejected Bruce’s traffic study which said there are 5,690 daily vehicle trips on Main Street and his project would add 5.7 percent, or 324 more trips off-peak.

“Most residents of over-55 communities have the flexibility of working off hours because the average age of buyers is 62,” he said.  

Typically, cities and towns prefer senior housing over single-family subdivisions.

“I have not heard of a community rejecting an over-55 project,” said Benjamin Fierro, attorney for the Home Builders & Remodelers Association of Massachusetts, a trade association of more than 2,000 single- and multi-family builders, developers and remodelers. “It is fair to say it’s rare.”

Fierro, who also serves on the Ipswich Zoning Board of Appeals, said communities routinely choose senior housing over other residential proposals because of the perception there will be less impact on municipal services and schools.

“It seems counterintuitive to say no to over-55 residences,” he said. “In my experience, the only thing a community likes less than children is density.”

Rather than 56 units of housing for seniors, it appears Lynnfield voters prefer single-family homes on large lots which will sell for more than $1 million and raise property values, Fierro said.

The zoning allows construction of single-family homes as of right.

Bruce said he is in the planning stages to build a minimum of 15 homes on 60,000-square-foot lots. The 4,000-square-foot custom-built homes will feature four or five bedrooms and be listed at $1.4 million.

“I’m not sure when we’ll get started,” he said. “But I’m working on it now.”

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