Local Government and Politics, News

Lynn: Former Western Avenue brownfield site will be developed into housing

LYNN — A $200,000 clean-up has turned a contaminated lot on Western Avenue into a place for new homes.

Economic Development and Industrial Corp. of Lynn (EDIC/Lynn), the property’s owner which last housed a gas station 20 years ago, will soon enter into an agreement with Lynn Housing Authority & Neighborhood Development (LHAND). The nonprofit housing agency plans to develop the West Lynn property into five attached townhouses, which they said  will align with similar housing development it has started in the neighborhood. 

“There’s a need for housing and the elected officials, the neighborhood and everyone felt the best use for that site would be residential,” said James Cowdell, EDIC/Lynn’s executive director. “We’re really happy that we were able to clean up the site and now turn it into a residential project that everyone can be proud of.”

If the development gets the green light, when completed, it would result in 16 new townhouses and eight single-family homes in the neighborhood. 

A groundbreaking is planned for next spring, pending further approval from the City Council, the Zoning Board of Appeals, and Planning Board. 

On Tuesday night, the City Council voted to remove a commercial property zoning restriction from 870 Western Ave., a first step to allowing residential development on the site. 

The commercial restriction was in place because the land was severely contaminated and had to be cleaned to make it safe for homes. The clean-up, which involved removing gas and oil tanks from the ground, was paid for by a grant EDIC secured from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), according to Cowdell. 

The agreement comes after a convoluted history with the property, which dates to 1988 when the Lynn J. Robert Corp. of Peabody and Jerome Sousa of North Hampton, N.H., acquired the 12,288-square-foot lot at no cost, according to the Southern Essex Registry of Deeds. In 2012, the city seized the abandoned station for nonpayment of $2,296 in real estate taxes. 

In 2015, the city sold the property to the EDIC for $1. A year later, EDIC made two attempts to sell the property, but failed to receive any attractive bids, including a marijuana dispensary. 

That prompted former Ward 6 Councilor and now state Rep. Peter Capano (D-Lynn), to hold a neighborhood meeting, where residents said they preferred housing. 

Peggy Phelps, director of planning and development for LHAND, said the single-family townhouses will front Western Avenue. The units will include two bedrooms, a bonus room, and yard. Access to the homes will be from Minot Street and Murphy Avenue. They will be a mix of affordable and market-rate. 

“It’s a great location for people working in the area,” Phelps said. “We think it’s a great fit for housing.” 

Phelps said the project will fit with development elsewhere in the Orchard Grove neighborhood, from Oakville to Minot and Bennett streets to Western Avenue. In 2018, they broke ground on a  $4.6 million three-phase project to transform vacant General Electric Co. lots into townhouses and single-family homes.  

Four-single family homes have been built on Minot Street. Construction is underway on the second phase of that project. Four single-family homes will be built at Richard and Light streets before work begins on the final phase, which will transform a parcel at River and Burns streets into 11 townhouses. 

Phelps said LHAND became interested in the abandoned gas station site because it was located in the same neighborhood. The agency highlighted vacant parcels in the area with a vision of filling in those lots with housing. 

“The neighborhood is really seeing an uplift with all of the work that’s going on,” said Phelps. “Our market study that we commissioned a few years ago showed us that we need more home ownership in that area. It makes sense to put more home ownership in that area to complement other work we’ve done.”

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