WOBURN - Veterans Services Director Larry Guiseppe recently initiated preliminary talks about housing homeless veterans within new apartments proposed for North Woburn's historic Tidd Home.
During the most recent City Council meeting in City Hall, Guiseppe appraised the City Council about ongoing negotiations with West Street resident John Flaherty about the potential housing deal, an arrangement that would still need to clear state and federal regulatory hurdles.
Word about using the Tidd Home for homeless veterans reached the City Council as the aldermen continue to debate the merits of Flaherty's proposed conversion of the former senior living facility into an apartment building with 14 studio units.
Ultimately, the public hearing on the petition, the first submitted under Woburn's new "conversion of historic buildings" ordinance, was continued until Dec. 3.
Since the council began debating the Tidd Home petition in late August, area abutters have cited a host of concerns about development-related parking and traffic. Of particular concern has been the impact to vehicular movements during the morning commute, when the neighborhood becomes congested before the start of classes at the nearby Linscott Elmentary School.
However, according to Guiseppe, if Flaherty does agree to house local homeless veterans in the complex, many of those issues would be moot.
"It's exactly what a single person would need who is facing homelessness. Right now, none of the homeless people I have today have vehicles," said Guiseppe of the historic estate at 74 Elm St., which is situated within walking distance to two MBTA bus stops. "I look at it as an opportunity to help out some of the veterans in our community."
At several points during the council meeting, the veterans director emphasized that no formal agreement has been reached with Flaherty, who is trying to save the historic Federal era mansion from the wrecking ball. Given that those particulars still need to be worked out, it's unclear how many units within the proposed 14-unit condominium building would be slated for local veterans.
However, according to Flaherty, he's open to designating a significant percentage of the complex for that use. According to the West Street resident, whose interest in preserving Woburn's history led to his pursuit of the development, he had already intended to market virtually all of the dwelling units as "affordable".
"I think homeless vets are a good idea. They're all affordable," said Flaherty.
Once used as a stagecoach hotel, the 9,900 square foot Tidd Home functioned for well over a century as a non-profit senior living facility that was managed by a city-based charity.
Back in 2017, when city officials discovered Tidd Home Inc. planned to disband and sell the estate, the council briefly explored the possibility of purchasing the North Woburn mansion for veterans housing. However, city leaders ultimately abandoned the idea after the property was listed on the market for a $1.8 million asking price.
In the spring of 2018 — apparently after the house attracted few suitors due to concerns about the neighborhood's underlying R2 or two-family zoning designation — Flaherty emerged with plans to reconfigure the property into studio apartments.
With the help of local attorney Joseph Tarby, the local philanthropist convinced the City Council last year to pass a special zoning ordinance that allows for historic buildings in single and two-family districts to be converted into multi-family housing. In exchange, developers must agree to preserve in perpetuity the exterior facades and other notable historical characteristics of such properties.
Since that time, the petitioner has insisted the Elm Street building's previous use as a senior living facility makes the site perfect for a small studio apartment conversion.
Planning to update existing living spaces with a no-frills kitchenette and a bathroom, the West Street resident has previously suggested that he would again market the apartments to elderly patrons who want to stay within Woburn, but need to downsize their living arrangements and find an affordable alternative to the myriad of luxury apartments and condominium units in the area.
Since the proposal was introduced in September, a number of residential abutters, many of whom reside in condominium units on Edwards Road, have expressed concerns about the marketing plan for the project — especially since there will only be 15 onsite parking spaces provided.
In particular, some neighbors worry the tiny studio apartments will be rented by young couples and professionals, who will be forced to park their cars along side streets. Abutters have also expressed concern young twenty-something tenants will turn the apartment complex into a party scene, which will disrupt the character of the quiet neighborhood.
During the most recent council meeting, at least one of those detractors told the aldermen her concerns about a party atmosphere would be satisfied by the veterans housing option. According to Edwards Road resident Janice Pinto, though supportive of the concept, she wants assurances that such an arrangement would not later be abandoned.
"I believe you can't just market to homeless veterans. What in the marketing [plan] will stop young singles or college students?" she asked.
According to Ward 1 Alderman Joanne Campbell, she too had voiced opposition to the proposal due to limited parking availably, but her stance is almost certain to change if veterans housing was being provided.
"I've been against this project because of the parking issue, but hearing that you're working with Larry Guiseppe to get homeless veterans into this property, [that changes things]," Campbell remarked.