WINCHESTER - Although the town reached “safe harbor” status through its Housing Production Plan by creating 79 affordable units and, therefore, remains safe from any unwanted 40B projects until March 2022, developers continue to seek buildings to refurbish or rebuild. Such projects still include an affordable component, which helps the town hit the 10 percent threshold the state says it needs to reach (Winchester remains slightly above three percent).
One project currently in development includes 10 Converse Place (adjacent to Town Hall and Mill Pond) where developer Ian Gillespie of Gillespie and Company seeks to transform the building (and area surrounding it). Although he’s met with the Planning Board four times and with their consultant Dennis Carlone five times, he told the Select Board this week he’s “a little confused, to be honest” on the next steps.
He brought forward three ideas to the Planning Board: a four-, five- or six-story building. His architect, David Hacin of Hacin & Associates, noted to the Select Board the building grew in length for each floor it lost thereby making the four-story version the longest and the six-story version the smallest.
Gillespie said his plan followed the Center Business District rezoning desires of the Planning Board and the CBD rezoning that Town Meeting approved back in 2015. He called the original zoning out of date and said the town rezoned to add residential housing and revitalize the retail/restaurant scene on Main Street (where Gillespie has another project, Fells Hardware).
The developer mentioned the town’s desire back in 2015 to add more than 200 residential units to the town center over the next 10-15 years. His plan would include retail below with residential units above. Hacin stressed the goals of the “new” CBD include building multi-family residences with 15 percent of those units affordable, something he’s focused on in his career, and creating retail space.
He told the Select Board how he offered four-, five- and six-story plans, adding the Planning Board originally told him to pursue the six-story building to maximize the open space. They also asked to have the project face Mill Pond (behind Town Hall) with store frontage on Mt. Vernon Street.
Hacin said he presented plans, which included a terrace facing Mill Pond, at the third meeting with the Planning Board. There, he said, he heard about some concerns with a six-story building, so he consulted with Carlone and looked at a five-story building instead (which would take up more green space and offer less setback).
By meeting number five, Hacin refined the plans for a five-story building with retail and restaurants wrapping around the building. He added he would make landscape improvements. However, both he and Gillespie appear stuck.
“I understand what Winchester is and I don’t want to screw it up,” Gillespie acknowledged, adding how he purchased the building from someone who had owned it for several decades and was now in his 90s.
Select Board member Mariano Goluboff remarked the plans “look incredible,” noting it’s “probably not the lowest cost building you could put there.” He also reiterated the goal of the CBD was to bring residents to the downtown, thereby eliminating some of the traffic from which Winchester suffers.
While Gillespie’s plan would do that, the issue involves the “not quite low cost” Goluboff mentioned. With the Planning Board not, in the developer’s words, giving him any clear direction, it leaves him with few options, one of which could cost the developer millions of dollars.
“Maybe the Planning Board was taken by surprise by their own zoning,” the developer wondered.
He does have one option courtesy of Goluboff and the Select Board: a Local Initiative Process; however, it would require Gillespie to create 25 percent of the units as affordable instead of the original 15 percent.
Being familiar with 40B projects and affordable housing, Gillespie felt the site wasn’t right for a 40B. He noted how the details on the building came out “outstandingly expensive” and he believed he wouldn’t be able to “provide you with quality.”
“If we have to, we can,” he admitted, though not with any conviction, “but it wouldn’t look as good.”
He said it will cost $750,000 to build each unit and selling 25 percent at the affordable rate of $250,000 would cost him millions.
Goluboff suggested presenting to the Planning Board what a LIP building would look like, noting how the building he already proposed was “in line with the Town Meeting vote of 2015.” Gillespie said he welcomed that conversation and acknowledged he and Hacin were “fans” of affordable housing, but “it restricts economics.”
Select Board member Jacqueline Welch did note how this process “involves give and take.”
The developer didn’t say when or if he would meet with the Planning Board or Carlone again.