WSANA, Newmarket Skeptical of Residential Project at Old Skipton Pet Store

By Seth Daniel

The Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association (WSANA) took a skeptical view to a proposed 66-unit mixed-use apartment building slated for the Methadone Mile on the site of the old Skipton Pet Store – a proposal that the host association, Newmarket Business Association, said it vehemently opposed.

All the action came at the WSANA meeting on Tuesday night, May 23, when Attorney Jeff Drago announced a plan by City Realty for a 66 unit rental apartment building just over the WSANA line where the Skipton Pet Store used to be on Southampton Street – an area right in the heart of Methadone Mile and rife with homelessness and addiction issues. The plan would also include 19 first-floor parking spaces and a 1,000 sq. ft. ground-level retail space.

Drago said the plan is in the distance, saying they expect two years of permitting, and they have a church tenant that will occupy the space until 2019.

He said some 13 percent would be affordable, and that the units have six live/work spaces and 60 micro-units of about 300 to 750 sq. ft. They would need variances and would be subject to the Article 80 development review process.

“We understand the concerns here and we wanted to be part of the solution,” he said. “Having the location as a Gateway with a really attractive building that meets all LEED standards and look very nice could help the area.”

Drago said they hadn’t met with Newmarket yet, the host association, but plan to do so next week.

Newmarket Executive Director Sue Sullivan was in attendance and said they are against the project and find the developers to be “disingenuous.”

“We are at this time completely and totally against this project,” she said, noting that they purchased the 14,000 sq. ft. property for $1.85 million. “We met with them after they purchased it and they said they had no plan for going residential at that time for the next eight to 10 years. Now three weeks later they are here with this residential proposal. It’s very disingenuous.”

Drago and the developers disagreed with Sullivan’s assertion, and said they would be working that out at the Newmarket meeting.

President George Stergios said he is skeptical, and others in the WSANA felt City Realty was just trying to make a quick buck.

Stergios said he didn’t see how people would want to live in an area where two hotels are already struggle simply due to the homelessness and drug addiction that overtakes the streets and sidewalks there.

“You look out and you see misery,” he said. “For most people, it’s very troubling to live with that. That’s why we have been working with the City and everyone else to improve the situation, because it’s troubling. Here, you’re going to have residents going to their deck or the roof deck and you’ll see people stumbling to the homeless shelters and people passing out on the sidewalk…With a hotel, you’re there one or two days and you can leave, yet people still complain about it. Here, you’re not leaving. You live there…It’s very bold. It’s awfully bold. I can’t imagine people wanting to live there.”

Vice President Bob Minnocchi said he believed that WSANA should stick with Newmarket or be neutral. He said he and others fought vigorously against the medical marijuana store proposed at the same location a few years ago, and Sullivan’s organization stuck with them.

“We need to lean to that Association or stay neutral,” he said. “It’s their area and not our area. We should do that out of respect.”

A few of the members, however, felt that the project should be supported.

One man said he believed that the project would help activate that street, saying Massachusetts Avenue in that area needed to be activated to help eliminate the vagrancy.

Most, however, did not agree.

Sullivan said they had just re-done the zoning there and residential is forbidden because it’s one of the last industrial/commercial areas left in the City center.

“The problem with residential in a commercial industrial area is everyone moves in because it’s cool,” she said. “Then in two or three months they get irritated by the loud trucks, the smell of the food operations and the early morning trash pickups…They complain and then we have to move out. When we lose these jobs, we lose them for good. We are the last industrial area left…The only thing saving this from happening all the time is the zoning. We just did the zoning. The ink is barely dry. We need to follow that zoning or we will lose our businesses and the 28,000 jobs down there.”

Added Andy Brand, “I feel it will be a failure like the Hampton Inn. It’s not the fault of the Hampton Inn. It’s a beautiful hotel. It’s what is around it. Is an older woman going to cross Melnea Cass and wait for the #1 bus with Lord knows how many addicts. I just don’t see how that will work.”

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