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Boston developer withdraws plans for over-55 housing at JB Thomas Hospital

The controversial plan to turn the shuttered J.B. Thomas Hospital into an over-55 community with 110 condos has been withdrawn by the developer. (courtesy)

PEABODY — A Boston developer has dropped a controversial proposal to replace the former J.B. Thomas Hospital campus with an over-55 community.

The decision by Hemisphere Development Group late Friday comes less than 48 hours after residents packed City Hall to oppose redevelopment of the closed medical facility on King Street into 110 condominiums.

Al Chow, Hemisphere’s senior manager, and Public Strategy Group, his public relations company, did not return calls seeking comment.

In a statement, Chow said “following Wednesday’s neighbor (sic) meeting and at the urging of Ward 4 Councilor Edward Charest, we have decided to withdraw our proposal to further evaluate the potential development of this property …We will continue to look at all of our options for the site over the coming weeks and months.”

Hemisphere Development bought the two- and three-story brick facility in 2017 for $1.9 million from Curahealth Property LLC.  The health care provider operated the 50-bed facility for a year before they closed, citing a decline in admissions and Medicare enrollments. 

For two years, the development team tried to come up with a plan the neighborhood would support. They first proposed 150 condos, then 135, 120, and finally 110. 

Under the last proposal, the 112-year-old hospital would be demolished and replaced with three, four-story wood frame and concrete buildings and parking for 238 cars. 

The company needed a special permit from the City Council to change the zoning to allow multifamily housing. The company can build one-and two-family homes as of right. 

Mayor Edward Bettencourt and Charest, whose district includes the hospital, did not return calls seeking comment. 

But Charest’s opponent for the Ward 4 council seat, John Salisbury-Rowswell, who also attended the hearing in the City Council chamber, had plenty to say.

“Wednesday’s meeting was the same as every other meeting on this proposal, no one wants a mega-project there,” he said. “City Councilor Charest has been a constant lobbyist for it. But everyone in the neighborhood says it’s outrageous and we don’t want it.”

Still, Salisbury-Rowswell said neighbors must be vigilant.

Hemisphere still owns the property, he said, and they could reintroduce it again when the timing is right, perhaps after the fall election.

“Until we know what the project is, it’s not over,” he said.   

Ward 1 City Councilor Jon Turco, who is running for a seat as an at-large member of the panel, said neighbors spoke very loudly and clearly that this isn’t what they want.

“I was glad I went to the meeting because there wasn’t a single person who spoke in favor of the project,” he said. “When you have that type of outcry from the neighborhood, you have to listen.”

City Councilor-at-Large Anne Manning-Martin, who has opposed the project and the secrecy behind it since the beginning, said she’s glad this plan is off the table.

“Neighbors made passionate pleas that this not move forward and they had lots of questions that went unanswered because the developer was not there,” she said. “That’s a quintessential New England neighborhood and there aren’t many left in Peabody or anywhere and it would be heartbreaking if it’s disrupted by their proposal.”

School Committeeman Jarrod Hochman, who is seeking a city councilor-at large seat and attended the meeting, said Hemisphere Development’s withdrawal is a win for the neighborhood.

“It’s an opportunity to sit down with Hemisphere to craft a project that is mutually agreeable,” he said. “We don’t want that site to continue to deteriorate. We want to see a positive project on a smaller scale that conforms with the Emerson Park neighborhood.”

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