WOBURN - A Boston developer secured just enough City Council support to shield a proposed elderly housing complex at the old Kraft Foods site from the application of the community's affordable housing mandates.
Earlier this summer, local attorney Joseph Tarby, representing commercial real-estate manager Legatt McCall, urged the City Council to facilitate his client's massive redevelopment of the old Atlantic Gelatin site in East Woburn by clarifying that the city's minimum affordable housing thresholds won't apply to a 100-unit congregate elderly residential complex.
Though the aldermen initially balked at the suggestion, the full council eventually consented to the request in a 6-to-3 decision. Steadfast in their opposition to the zoning amendment, dissenters in the recent vote included Ward 1 Alderman Joanne Gonsalves, Ward 5 Alderman Darlene Mercer-Bruen, and Ward 7's Lindsay Higgins.
The enforcement of Woburn's 15 percent affordability mandate, which applies to any new housing development containing more than 10 dwellings, was the only area of dispute as the council considered Legat McCall's recent pitch to enact a series of amendments to East Woburn's Technology and Business Use Overlay District (TBOD).
Following the closure of the 400,000 square foot Atlantic Gelatin manufacturing plant closed in 2016, city leaders jointly agreed to create the TBOD in order to encourage a "jobs-centered" redevelopment of the sprawling 107-acre industrial property, which extends all the way beyond Forest Street and into portions of Stoneham and Winchester.
Dubbing the development "The Vale", Legat McCall have since announced plans to erect a new 135-room hotel, 834,000 square feet of high-end office space, and a blend of unspecified retail outlets and restaurants that comprise a total of roughly 83,000 square feet at the 61-acre Kraft Foods site off of Hill Street by I-93.
The proposal also calls for the construction of 300 housing units, a third of which would be part of a single complex that contains congregate elderly housing. A 105-unit assisted living and Alzheimer's care facility is also planned, as is the construction of two structured parking garages containing a total of 2,875 spaces.
The recent zoning change, which became effective at the end of last month, frees the Boston developer from having to slate 15 of the 100 proposed elderly housing units as affordable.
During a council meeting in early July, Legat McCall representatives told the council that while getting ready to market the elderly housing and memory care development components to third-party operators, staff attorneys expressed concern about the potential application of Woburn's minimum affordable housing thresholds.
Tarby, though convinced the local ordinance didn't apply to such facilities, subsequently introduced the zoning legislation, which also sought to make a number of other changes to the special TBOD. None of those other modifications, some of which relate to potential project impacts on abutters in Winchester, were mentioned by city officials as an area of concern.
According to Tarby, the loss of 15 affordable units is insignificant in light of the considerable financial and economic benefits that are expected from the larger Kraft Foods site redevelopment. He also pointed out that Woburn will still add affordable housing to its Chapter 40B inventory list, as the other townhouse and apartment complexes will include 30 units slated for income-restricted buyers and tenants.
"You have to look at the bigger picture with this project. It will be the largest redevelopment in the City of Woburn up to this time," said Tarby during a council meeting in early July. "If this were built out today, the estimated annual taxes would be between $5-to-$6 million, with thousands of new jobs being provided."