SAUGUS — The Board of Selectmen unanimously approved a height variance on Tuesday that would allow for the construction of two apartment buildings on the Kowloon restaurant premises.
The two 67-foot, 8-inch buildings will exceed the 55-foot maximum permitted by the town’s zoning bylaws.
The revisions to the original plan, seen as the conditions for the height variance by the Board of Selectmen, included a 10-percent reduction in the number of units to no more than 198 units in total and the stipulation that they be one-bedroom apartments with no balconies.
“It passed unanimously, five to zero,” said Board of Selectmen Chairman Anthony Cogliano. He added that previously there were two selectmen who were not sure, but on Tuesday everyone voted in favor.
The two board members who were previously unsure about granting the developers the height variance were Vice Chair Debra Panetta and member Michael Serino, who said after one of the previous hearings that he was concerned about the project’s density.
“I appreciate your patience and your thoughtfulness as we went through this process,” said Panetta.
Panetta’s earlier concerns were centered around the impact that this project would have on the future character of Route 1.
“By right, they can build a building at 55 feet; if they want to go to 90 feet it requires a variance from the Board of Selectmen,” said Cogliano.
To get the Board of Selectmen’s permission to build higher than allowed by the bylaws, the Wong family, longtime owners of Kowloon, agreed to construct with steel and concrete out of fire-safety considerations, as well as to plan for one-bedroom units only with no balconies, said Cogliano.
“That was a trade off for building at 67 feet,” he said.
The increased height and reduced number of units is said to make the project less dense and push it further away from the abutting neighbors, while the one-bedroom units with no balconies should reduce congestion near local schools and protect the privacy of neighbors.
Cogliano explained that in the process of the town exploration on the matter he, another board member, and the Wong family met Kowloon abutters to go over the proposed plan and find out the local public opinion.
“And they were all in agreement that this was what they wanted to do,” said Cogliano.
As to the height variance, Cogliano mentioned that there were other buildings in Saugus on Route 1 that were the same height of 67 feet, including the Eastern Bank building and the Essex Landing development.
“The precedent has been set in the past,” said Cogliano.
The issue was first brought to the Board of Selectmen last year, when Kowloon co-owner Bobby Wong went before the board and explained that his family was thinking of remodeling their property.
An earlier plan included the construction of two multi-purpose buildings with up to 220 units on the site, a new Kowloon restaurant space and a retail space under the Kowloon brand on the first floors. Route 1 has a complicated zoning bylaw, (Item, March 20), and the project might need three boards to grant permits: the Board of Selectmen, the Planning Board, and the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Kowloon Restaurant is owned by state Rep. Donald Wong (R-Saugus) and his five siblings.
The Board of Selectmen members expressed their appreciation to the Wong family for reducing the project. According to Selectman Jeffrey Cicolini, the Wong family showed their dedication and commitment to making sure the project was right for the town as well as right for the family.
“It has been a process that you’ve been absolutely professional and more than forthcoming with everything that has been asked,” said Cicolini.