PEABODY — Hoping to win support for a controversial plan to transform the former J.B. Thomas Hospital into senior housing, a Boston developer has hired a public relations firm, launched a website, and a Facebook page.
Hemisphere Development Group LLC has proposed Kings Residences to replace the shuttered eyesore on King Street. If approved by the City Council, the dilapidated hospital campus, which closed two years ago, would become an over-55 community with 110 studio, one- and two-bedroom condominiums starting at $400,000.
Despite a one-third reduction in the number of units since the project’s inception last year, neighbors say it’s still too dense. They insist the new residences, even if it’s for people over 55, will exacerbate traffic congestion and the lack of parking in the Emerson Park neighborhood.
Al Chow, Hemisphere’s senior manager, said the active adult residential community will turn a vacant, rundown property into new residential options for seniors. It will clean up the environment, he said, and add $500,000 annually in tax revenues to the city, up from $98,053 it pays today, or nearly five times the hospital tax yield.
The goal of having a website, a presence on social media, and hiring a PR firm, he said, is to educate the public about the project’s many benefits.
“I’m just trying to do neighborhood outreach to get the information out there,” Chow said. “I know there are lots of people who don’t fully understand our project … that’s why we put up the Facebook page and the website … I want the information out there and let people respond.”
If Chow wins the council’s support to allow multi-family dwellings on the parcel, 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.
Mayor Edward Bettencourt Jr. has supported the project while being concerned about the number of units. He has expressed fears a developer could use the Chapter 40B affordable housing law that would limit the city’s ability to control the project size. The state law is in play when a community’s affordable housing count is less than 10 percent. In Peabody, that number is 9.3 percent.
Ward 4 City Councilor Edward Charest, whose district includes the hospital, has also supported the project. He did not return a call seeking comment.
City Councilor-at-Large Thomas Rossignoll said he’s not sure a website will win over critics.
“Any proposed project in the city will have people that question it and that’s a good thing,” he said. “I’m not sure where I stand on the project as a whole yet.”
While 55-plus housing is a good thing for Peabody and does not burden the school system, the number of condos is a concern, he said.
“The project as a concept is valid, but I share the fears of the neighborhood about traffic and parking,” Rossignoll said. “One hundred units is a lot.”
One of the factors in sizing the project is the purchase price, as well as clean-up and construction costs.
Hemisphere Development Group bought the two- and three-story brick campus in 2017 for $1.9 million from Curahealth Property LLC.
Chow would not say whether his company would be willing to reduce the number of condos further. He also declined to provide the project’s costs.
Ward 1 City Councilor and Councilor-at-Large candidate Jon Turco said he doesn’t have enough information on the project to make up his mind. He has previously said it’s the best option for the site, but it’s a question of how many units are the right number.
A website and its Facebook page will help the council and residents, he said.
“The more information we get before the scheduled hearing on the project in December, the better the decision making will be,” Turco said. “From where they started to where they are now it’s much better. But I don’t know if 101 units is as low as they will go.”
City Councilor-at-Large Ryan Melville said he is keeping an open mind.
“I’m listening to the neighbors,” he said. “I will say the most transparency possible is the best thing the development team can do. The more they explain the positive benefits and how they will mitigate the negative is the best way to go for the developer and the city.”
School Committeeman Jarrod Hochman, who is seeking an at-large seat on the City Council and lives near the hospital, said the project is too big for the close-knit neighborhood.
“I’m not against development, I would be comfortable with a project about half the proposed size,” he said.
The Kings Residences website is: kingsresidencespeabody.com.