WOBURN - More than a year after first announcing his plans to save the historic Tidd Home, West Street resident John Flaherty recently became the first local landowner to file a special permit application under Woburn's new historic property preservation ordinances.
During their most recent gathering in City Hall, the aldermen voted unanimously and without debate to schedule a public hearing for an application to convert the North Woburn mansion on Elm Street into a 14-unit apartment complex.
A second component of the proposal asks the council for permission to retrofit the former senior living facility's kitchen and office areas into a new headquarters for Woburn's non-profit Historical Society.
The special permit petition is the first application filed under Woburn's new "conversion of historical buildings" ordinance, which was originally introduced last summer by Ward 7 Alderman Edward Tedesco.
In September of 2018, when the city's Planning Board was debating the merits of the historic building conversion legislation, local attorney Joseph Tarby revealed the Flaherty family had purchased the North Woburn property after the Federal-era estate near Traverse Street sat on the market for at least a year.
The historic property, which dates back to 1809, managed for over a century by non-profit Tidd Home Inc., which had operated a senior living facility on the grounds since 1889. Citizens first learned the home would be put up for sale back in the spring of 2017.
The City Council had expressed interest in purchasing the 20-plus room estate for possible use as a veterans' home shortly before Tidd Home Inc. disbanded, but the starting $1.8 million asking price for the structure ultimately proved too rich for the city's tastes.
Flaherty and his wife, Kathryn, have perhaps been the city's most generous private benefactors over the past decade, as they footed the entire bill for Woburn Common's war memorial, the James F. Brennan Tennis Courts at WMHS, and the construction of a press-box and handicapped-accessibility modifications at Connolly Stadium.
More recently, the couple has scooped up a handful of historic properties across the city and pitched adaptive reuses of those buildings. In fact, the Historical Society's current home off of Mishawum Road was the result of extensive renovations to the Burdett Mansion. That project included a for-profit component, as there are five apartments within the building.
Flaherty's Tidd Home project would mirror the Burdett Mansion undertaking on a grander scale, as the old elderly housing units would be converted into 14 one-bedroom apartments.
According to the West Street resident, because local contractor Scott Seaver invested an estimated $1.5 million into the sprawling 9,848 square foot back in 2006, the newest project will not entail expansive ADA or building system work.
Flaherty has told city officials he hopes to continue in the tradition of Tidd Home Inc. by marketing the new studio apartments to senior citizens looking for an affordable way to remain in the community throughout their golden years.
The West Street residents say the Historical Society's proposed move from the Burdett Mansion to North Woburn will enable the non-profit to hold multiple public exhibits at once and give the organization access to a kitchen area for private functions and fundraising events.
The nice thing about it is the Historical Society, which I'm a big fan of, gets to grow. They could put up three or four exhibits at once," Flaherty told the Planning Board last fall. "It would double their floor space. They often have several exhibits going on, and they always have to take them down and put them back up [because of space constraints at the Burdett Mansion]."
After convincing city officials to enact the first version of the conversion of historic building regulations last summer, Flaherty was forced to twice return to the City Council to modify that new zoning ordinances to facilitate his plans for the Elm Street mansion.
The aldermen earlier this summer approved the latest zoning amendment, which allows the City Council to waive a 20-unit per acre density cap for properties like the Tidd Home, which though massive, technically sits on an undersized lot with just a half-acre of space.