Lynnfield voters to get their say: Sagamore Spring Golf looks to develop

Lynnfield voters will later this month consider whether to indirectly sanction the construction of an age-restricted housing development along the eastern side of the private Sagamore Spring Golf Club.

In a community peppered with golfing grounds — there are two other municipal courses in town — the development plans unveiled earlier this winter by Mashpee-based Bonvie Homes would result in the construction of a gated 55-plus condo development with 154 dwelling units.

The privately-run golf club, managed by Sagamore Golf Inc.'s Richard Luff, will also continue its operations, as the housing will be situated along the edges of half of the course's fairways.

The developer, the same firm that is building a retirement community at Winchester's old Winning Farm site by the Woburn and Lexington line, has promised to build custom-designed luxury living quarters on the grounds, which will include amenities like a fitness center and indoor heated swimming pool.

"I'm considered one of the foremost professionals in the United States in reference to 55-plus housing, and I think [this type of development] is something that has been under-utilized for a number of years. This project is designed specifically for Lynnfield. It's not an off-the-shelf [development plan]," Bonvie Homes' president Ron Bonvie told the Board of Selectmen last January.

"Generally, [our residents] are moving from a larger home and downsizing, and they know how they like to use their space. So part of our process is to do custom-production homes," later remarked Torrey Spillman, the company's senior vice president.

All of the units, to range from 2,400-to-3,000 square feet in size, will be owner-occupied dwellings with two bedrooms and a two-car garage. Expected to be priced between $700,000 and $900,000, the homes will be marketed solely to persons aged 55-and-older - with deed restrictions forbidding those under 18 from residing on the grounds.

The town is expected to receive approximately $1.8 million in annual tax revenues from the project, according to Fougere Planning and Development, the firm that prepared a fiscal impact analysis for Bonvie Homes.

Based upon the financial consultants claims, the luxury senior accommodations will have a negligible impact on municipal services, as school-aged children are forbidden from residing on the premises and trash and similar services will be borne by the homeowners.

Fougere officials estimate that at most, 10 to 15 percent of the $1.8 million in annual tax revenues generated will be spent on the provision of municipal services, most of which will presumably relate to fire department responses to medical aid and building-system alarms.

Trio of zoning changes needed

Specifically, Lynnfield citizens are being asked to okay a legislative package at the upcoming Town Meeting assembly on April 30 that will rezone approximately 106 acres - or roughly sixty percent of the sprawling 18-hole course that is intersected by Main Street - as part of an elderly housing (EH) district.

A second zoning amendment will lift restrictions in EH zones that prevent housing projects from exceeding 136 units, the cap would be lifted to a new 154-unit ceiling to accommodate the Bonvie Homes' proposal.

Interestingly, the project, being dubbed Fairways Edge at Sagamore, marks the second time in the past decade that Lynnfield's voters will be asked to sanction a redevelopment involving senior housing on a private golf course.

Back in 2007, after National Development purchased the old 220-acre Sheraton Colonial Resort Golf Course, citizens sanctioned a rezoning initiative that created the 80-acre MarketStreet at Lynnfield project and a seven-acre senior living complex.

In return, town leaders, besides seeing municipal coffers expand from a new tax revenue stream, were deeded control of about 110-acres of land that has since been transformed into the 9-hole King Rail Reserve Golf Course.

Town officials have also been eyeing the relocation of the Lynnfield Public Library onto part of the Reedy Meadows Course off of Summer Street, but without a funding source, that plan for a new 25,000 square foot facility has been shelved.

Under the newest Sagamore Spring venture, the golf course will remain in operation. To facilitate that goal, Town Meeting participants will be asked to okay yet a third zoning article, which will allow golf courses within Lynnfield's EH districts.

If approved, several Sagamore Spring Golf Club improvements are planned, including the construction of a new clubhouse and the relocation of a maintenance shed to the opposite side of Main Street, where half of the course's fairways will remain otherwise untouched.

According to Peter Ogren, the developer's civil engineer and land planning expert, the joint development venture also entails the construction of new tunnels underneath Main Street, which will allow golfers to access the full course without having to traverse the roadway.

"You can see there are three major areas of open-space that are sort of [screened by clusters of trees], which can most easily accept a residential development," said Ogren, explaining why the eastern half of the course was selected for the senior housing.

Development a certainty

According to Theodore Regnante, a Lynnfield attorney representing the project proponents, the Luff and Strobel/Thompson families, who are principals in the real-estate trust that controls the Sagamore Spring land, have carefully worked with Bonvie Homes to create a responsible development plan.

"We've been looking for a number of years as to how this should happen, and it is time," said golf course manager Richard Luff, who described members of the land trust as looking for a "liquidity event".

"But its extremely important to us that it proceeds in the right manner. [The community has told us it wants] to keep the golf course intact, and we feel this is the right move," he added

However, should Town Meeting voters reject the proposal, the landlords are prepared to move ahead with a subdivision containing around 150 single-family homes. Such an undertaking would not only shutter the golf course, but is sure to bring with it an influx of new school-aged children, most of whom would likely enroll in the public school system.

When the senior housing plans were first introduced this winter, several selectmen lamented that possibility, which would result in new financial hardships to the community and leave Lynnfield officials with few opportunities to shape the development.

"You spoke quickly about the liquidity event. I think in the perfect world, we'd keep the golf course as it is and move along. But I feel an action has to happen, and the way I read the discussion tonight, [this seems like the best option]," said Board of Selectmen Chair Christopher Barrett.

"This plan, at least initially, appears responsive to [the townspeople's desire] to maintain the character of the community]" Selectman Richard Dalton later agreed.

Though echoing a similar sentiment, Selectman Phillip Crawford did call upon his colleagues to carefully consider the financial impacts of the proposal, which he believes could still result in drastic demographic changes that result in a surge of new school enrollments.

Specifically, Crawford predicted the new luxury units will be particularly appealing for existing Lynnfield residents who are looking for a way to downsize their living quarters but still remain within the town.

"It does have an echo effect. That will open up those 4-or-5 bedroom colonials to a new young family. That's great, but now we'll have a lot of these [school-aged children moving into Lynnfield] all at once. That's a cross factor we have to think about," he said.

In fact, evidence presented by Northrup Associates principal Richard Tisei, a former state senator whose real estate firm will be marketing the units, suggests there is a huge demand for such housing in the community, where around 2,500 homeowners are reportedly aged 55 or older.

"As far as demand, the over 55 age bracket is the fastest growing demographic in the country. The greater Boston area in particular has the highest concentration of over 55 households of anywhere in the U.S.," said Tisei. "Rather than staying in the community they lived in for decades, raised their kids, and became a part of the civic and social structure, they often end up having to leave [their hometowns]."

Matter-of-factly conceding Crawford's point, Bonvie advised local citizens to beware of the repercussions of blocking local senior housing initiatives in order to control housing inventory turnover to young families.

In particular, the developer warned aging residents will eventually downsize and purchase smaller homes, regardless of whether those units are situated in Lynnfield or within abutting communities. And should that exodus occur on a large-scale basis, the town will still be on the hook for educating a burgeoning student population, but won't have new tax streams like those from senior housing projects to offset that impact.

"That's what happens when towns don't embrace this type of zoning," he cautioned. "That's a question I get in every community we go to, and that's always my answer."

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