WOBURN - The City Council recently granted a Woburn Center landlord permission to double the size of a new retail suite at the old Moore & Parker building site by moving a downscaled function hall into an unplanned basement space.
During a recent gathering in City Hall, the aldermen swiftly okayed Leo Realty Holdings request to modify its 2018 special permit for the major Woburn Center redevelopment at 371 Main Street, where a new three-story structure containing a mix of residential and commercial uses is nearing completion.
The unanimous approval will allow the petitioner, the proprietors of the popular BrickYard Restaurant, to occupy a basement space that has already been constructed — despite not being part of the original design sanctioned by local officials.
Under the modified layout, a banquet hall for the adjacent BrickYard eatery, previously planned for the ground-level portion of the new building, will be moved into the basement area. The original plans called for that first floor space, which would include direct access to the restaurant's kitchen, to contain seating for up to 110 patrons.
Instead, Leo Realty manager Nick Leo wants to open a smaller 70-guest function space in the basement. By doing so, the landlord can double to size a 850 square foot retail space with direct access onto Main Street. That retail area will now comprise the entire ground-level floor.
No changes are being proposed to the layout of the second and third floors, where seven one-bedroom apartments with 500 square feet of living space are planned.
According to local attorney Mark Salvati, his client had initially considered the construction of a basement at the redevelopment, but ultimately abandoned that idea due to concerns over the likely presence of significant ledge deposits.
However, once contractors razed the 124-year-old Moore & Parker building and began excavation efforts, the Leo family discovered the soil was suitable for a foundation.
"When we started digging, we discovered there was less ledge than we thought. So they put in a foundation, which makes for a better building," said Salvati of the creation of the unsanctioned basement.
During the council's deliberations over the major Woburn Center undertaking last year, several aldermen expressed considerable concern about the project's reliance upon parking spaces within the city's Walnut Street lot.
Not only worrying about apartment tenants gobbling up spots that were intended to serve the downtown area's merchants, several aldermen also argued that function hall guests were also likely to utilize the municipal lot for extended periods of time.
According to Salvati, his client's revised building layout will likely solve some of those parking demand issues, because the new function hall is being resized for 30 less patrons. Though that change is facilitating plans to double the size of the ground-level retail space, the local lawyer argued the change in business uses will likely bring with it a more frequent turnover of parking spaces.
"Now, in the basement there would only be [function hall seating for] 70, and most of the first floor rental area will be [leased] to a third party. We think they'll be less encumbrance on the parking, because the function area is much smaller," the local lawyer further explained.
Ward 2 Alderman Richard Gately was the only council member to pose questions about the design modifications, and most of his inquiries revolved around changes to stairwells and exit doors.
According to Leo, there will be two stairways in the building, one of which will drop down to the new basement through the existing route into the Brickyard. The second stairwell will extend down to the ground-level floor and exit onto Main Street.