WOBURN - In the first test of new minor modification regulations, the City Council last night okayed floor plan revisions that could change up the mix of dwelling types in North Woburn's Tidd Home redevelopment.
During a regular meeting in City Hall on Tuesday evening, the aldermen unanimously agreed to a request from Tidd Home LLC to amend a 2019 special permit to allow the historic building to be converted into an apartment complex with 14 studio apartments.
Though not called on to address the petition last night, local attorney Joseph Tarby, representing local philanthropist John Flaherty, explained in a March 5 letter that his client was seeking to make a few minor floor plan changes to the interior of the former senior living facility at 74 Elm St.
Tarby contends the proposed changes, which will have no impact on the total number of dwelling units or the number of required parking spaces at the new apartment complex, should be eligible for an abbreviated review process as defined by the city's new minor modification ordinance.
"The proposed modification to the interior of the building does not increase the number of required parking spaces. As a result, it is a minor modification," the Murtha Cullina lawyer argued. "[T]he proposed minor modification does not result in a substantial amendment which changes the result of [your previous decision] or which grants relief different from [what was] originally granted."
Last night, Ward 2 Alderman Richard Gately, also classifying the interior layout revisions as immaterial in relation to the project's special permit conditions, urged his colleagues to act immediately on the proposal.
Though the Tidd Home petition was viewed for the first time by the council last night, the city's new minor modification regs were established in order to expedite the approval of some types special permit changes.
Under the new ordinance, enacted by the City Council in late January, qualifying proposals can be immediately okayed without a public hearing so long as the proposed modifications have no discernible effect on the nature of a development and related issues like area traffic and parking.
"They're all very minor adjustments to the interior of the building. He's not knocking down any walls or subtracting anything. Let's just accept this new floor plan," said the Ward 2 alderman.
"The number of units aren't changing, so it's still 14. That's important to me. It's really making a couple of the units larger, which in my view is a good thing," later agreed Ward 1 Alderman Joanne Campbell.
More skeptical of the proposal was Ward 5 Alderman Darlene Mercer-Bruen, who pointed out the new layout will allow for at least one studio apartment to be enlarged into a one-bedroom unit.
According to Mercer-Bruen, since previous public hearings over the Tidd Home conversion largely centered upon parking impacts, she believes an argument could be made that the change is significant.
"So [it's a minor modification if] the new floor plan is going to change a studio to a one-bedroom? That's the discussion I had with the building inspector [about why this was referred to us]," the East Woburn official said.
"If you have a one-bedroom instead of a studio, you could have a couple living there. And a couple can have one than more car, so following that train of thought, there could be an impact on parking," Mercer-Bruen continued.
Ultimately, Mercer-Bruen voted in favor of the petition after Gately challenged the notion that the change in bedroom mixes would increase parking demands for the project.
The first development approved under a "conversion of historic buildings" ordinance passed in 2018, the Tidd Home project was sanctioned in a 7-to-1 vote of the alderman late last year.
A West Street resident known for various philanthropic efforts, Flaherty emerged nearly two years ago as the buyer of the historic 1809 mansion off of Elm Street, which for over a century was used by a non-profit organization to provide affordable housing to elderly residents in the community.
Though many in the city heralded the West Street resident for sparing the 9,900 square foot Tidd Home from the wrecking ball, he faced quite a bit of neighborhood opposition due to traffic and parking concerns while seeking a special permit for the 14-unit apartment complex.
Ultimately, he agreed to turn the estate into an age-restricted development for persons over the age of 55, while Flaherty has also pledged to rent out several of the units to local homeless veterans.