WOBURN - Fulfilling the predictions of city officials and neighborhood abutters, local businessman Stephen Braese recently introduced a proposal to convert the majority of the Century 21 North East building off of Pleasant Street into apartments.
During a City Council meeting earlier this week, the alderman voted unanimously to refer the special permit petition for a public hearing on Nov. 15, when the elected officials will delve more deeply into the plans to create four new apartments by substantially shrinking the size of the historic building's commercial space.
The council this week offered no feedback about the submission from Braese Holdings LLC, the legal entity that technically owns 132 Pleasant St. The historic two-story home, which contains roughly 8,300 square feet in gross space, dates back to 1880.
Already, there are two small apartments within the Pleasant Street structure. Under the proposal, a total of six apartments would exist in the building, while the total office space would be slashed from 3,339 square feet to 1,078 square feet.
The petition is being submitted under Woburn's "conversion of historic buildings" ordinance, which was initially enacted last December in order to facilitate plans to convert North Woburn's Tidd Home off of Elm Street into studio apartments.
Under the regulations, which were expanded this spring to allow for a continuation of pre-existing commercial uses, those who own buildings that are at least 100-years-old can covert those structures into multi-unit housing complexes.
Technically, the Historic Commission needs to declare all such properties as "historically significant" before the council can approve related special permit requests for multi-unit housing, but the local government body has not yet formalized rules around that process.
Though the .69-acre parcel sits within an R1 or single-family home zoning district, the Century 21 North East headquarters is one of many historic buildings along Pleasant Street that contain pre-existing, non-conforming commercial uses.
Earlier this year, when the City Council was asked to modify the original historic preservation ordinance to allow for mixed-use redevelopments, both the Planning Board and several aldermen voiced specific concerns about the citywide implications of such a zoning amendment.
At the time, Planning Director Tina Cassidy had suggested the modification could impact as many as 15 historic buildings, including a handful of prominent estates along Main and Pleasant Streets that currently house funeral homes, lawyers offices, and a blend of other commercial uses.
During a council meeting in early March, Pleasant Street resident Mark Ferullo, urging the aldermen to consider the implications of expanding the historic preservation ordinance to allow for commercial uses, also directly mentioned the Century 21 building by name.
At the time, Ferullo outlined a hypothetical development scenario that matches exactly the special permit submission that's currently before the City Council.
The abutter had become aware of the plan months ago after Braese approached area neighbors as a courtesy in order to let them know about his intentions.
"The main concern, because we live on the side of the street that has many single-family homes, is that this building only has 4,300 square feet [of net living space]. The owner has expressed interest in adding four residential units," said the Pleasant Street resident.
"I don't see how that fits in a single-family neighborhood. Century 21 has been a good neighbor, but we feel it shouldn't' be turned into an apartment building," he added.
Ward 6 Alderman Tedesco authored both the original and two subsequent amendments to the historic preservation ordinance in order to save the Tidd Home off of Elm Street, which had been run as a non-profit senior living community for roughly 130 years.
The scope of the ordinance was amended in late March to include commercial uses because West Street resident John Flaherty, who plans to purchase the historic Elm Street estate, had unveiled plans to move Woburn's Historical Society into the old Tidd Home kitchen and office spaces.
However, that redevelopment component has now been abandoned by Flaherty.
Due to the concerns about the ordinance's potential application to mansions along Pleasant Street and the edges of Woburn Center, Tedesco last spring introduced a compromise measure that sought to drastically reduce the allowable size of commercial spaces.
Specifically, some city officials had questioned whether historic building owners could count unfinished basement and attic spaces — which may be used by commercial tenants for accessory uses such as storage purposes — for the purpose of determining the maximum size of a new office use.
Under that last-minute tweak, Tedesco clarified that a continuation of commercial uses must be based upon net floor area and cannot comprise more than 25 percent of the mixed-use redevelopment. That definition ensures all hallways, utility closets, basements, and similar spaces were excluded from the 25 percent calculation.
Had the change not been approved, the size of the current petition’s proposed office use could have been almost doubled in size.