Mill Street Gardens

Mill Street Gardens is a 181 unit 40B development on Woburn’s East side. The rendering above shows what the proposed development may look like.

A Boston-based developer just may have scooped up the permitting rights to Woburn's last-ever adverse Chapter 40B development.

In an announcement made just days ago, Hamilton Company Co-CEO Jameson Brown revealed his firm, in a $59.5 million deal, recently bought the rights to construct a 72-unit apartment complex on Mill Street in East Woburn.

Details provided by the Boston developer indicate the previously permitted affordable housing project by the Stoneham line will be coupled with the sale of the former Country Club Garden Apartment complex, an adjacent housing development off of Salem Street.

"Of the 181 apartments at Mill Street Gardens, three are studios, 64 are one bedroom and 114 are two bedrooms. Each unit has one bath, storage locker and outside parking," company officials announced earlier this week. "[The] company plans to spend an additional $500,000 this year to upgrade kitchens and baths, renovate the pool area, install new fencing, upgrade the laundry system and make landscaping improvements."

Later this week, Woburn's Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), which initially granted permits for the 72-unit apartment project in June of 2017, will deliberate over a requested construction completion deadline extension for the development.

Assuming that routine approval is granted, the Boston developer could find itself in possession of the last-ever comprehensive permit issued under duress by Woburn officials, who have been repeatedly handcuffed in recent decades tby he state's controversial Chapter 40B regulations.

Specifically, upon issuance of permits for the newer Mill Street project, the municipality should finally reach a highly-coveted 10 percent housing coverage threshold.

Commonly criticized by municipal officials, Chapter 40B requires all cities and towns to dedicate 10 percent of their total housing stock towards affordable buyers or tenants. In communities that don’t meet the 10 percent housing threshold, developers are allowed to skirt virtually all local zoning and building bylaws by seeking the granting of waivers from the ZBA in comprehensive permit requests.

The types of relief sought in Chapter 40B petitions are wide-ranging. Almost always, those waivers include protections from underlying zoning rules governing the density and size of buildings, as well as the types of housing allowed in underlying districts.

Over the past twenty years, city officials in Woburn have spent hundreds-of-thousands of dollars fighting some of the densest developments pitched in the immediate region under Chapter 40B.

In one such famous proposal involving Northeastern's former Whispering Hill parcel, where a developer proposed the construction 641 apartments by Burlington, the state's Supreme Judicial Court in 2001 established a new precedent which capped all future adverse 40B developments at a 300-unit size.

Most recently, in North Woburn by the community's Altavesta Elementary School, area neighbors have stood by helplessly as another 40B developer obtained permission by the courts to turn a future apartment complex into a de-facto quarry operation.

Under that project, which will result in the creation of 168-new apartments, Connecticut's Franklin Construction Company will spend the next two years blasting and trucking away some 420,000 cubic yards of ledge from a hilly nine-acre parcel that overlooks Main Street.

However, with the community having now added hundreds of new apartments under Chapter 40B, Woburn is now within reach of the coveted 10 percent coverage standards. In fact, as of 2017, according to the Mass. Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), Woburn had permitted 1,419 affordable housing units, leaving it just 168 units shy of its end goal.

Needing 1,587 units to reach permanent "safe harbor" status, in which local officials can deny without consequence future developments that violate local zoning rules, Woburn has reportedly surpassed that threshold with the approval of the Woburn Village redevelopment of the Woburn Mall last summer.

As such, the Mill Street project is expected to be the last 40B permission issued by city officials under duress.

Hamilton Company

Both Mill Street apartment properties, which sit by I-93, are located by Washington Street in Woburn. They also sit in close proximity to the back end of Stoneham Arena’s skating rink and the municipal Unicorn Golf Course off William Street.

Hamilton Company spokesman Alan Eisner, during a recent phone interview with The Middlesex East, confirmed the developer will move ahead with plans to house the newest apartment complex in a single four-story building containing 91,500 square feet.

"The previous owners had a pre-approval to do it, so when the Hamilton Company made the purchase it was included," Eisner explained. "We're in the process now of pricing out [the construction budget]. Once we get a firm figure on the new development, we'll get that out [to the city]."

The 40B project will contain 22 one-bedroom apartments, 40 two-bedroom apartments, and 10 three-bedrooom units. Though only 18 of those new homes will be marketed as "affordable" — or for lease to tenants earning no more than 80 percent of the area's median income — all 72 units will count towards Woburn's subsidized housing inventory.

News that the new landlord will not seek to modify the size of the newest Mill Street apartment development is almost certain to be welcomed by area abutters in Woburn and nearby Stoneham, as the neighborhood spent over a year protesting a larger 113-unit development proposed by Reading resident James Lichoulas Jr.

The ZBA, after an extensive public hearing process, voted in June of 2017 to grant a comprehensive permit for the new housing development, which is being constructed on seven old single-family housing lots that comprise a total of 3.52 acres of land.

According to Brown, the son of Hamilton Company founder Harold Brown, the recent real estate deal underscores the Boston firm's vision of capturing a larger share of the seemingly vanishing market for moderately-priced housing.

"[This acquisition] is consistent with our company's objective to grow our portfolio by providing moderately-priced housing at a time when many families are being pushed out of the Greater Boston housing market," Brown stated.

The Boston real estate company, with a real estate portfolio of nearly 6,000 residential dwellings and 1.3 million square feet of commercial space, also manages the 220-unit Westgate Apartment complex and the 44-unit Brookside Apartment property in Woburn. Hamilton Company and its affiliates also control multi-family housing developments in nearby Winchester and Lexington.

According to Eisner, the Hamilton Company's focus on building and rehabilitating moderately-priced homes is somewhat unique in the larger area, as many competitors, seizing on a soaring demand for new luxury rental units, have been erecting high-end apartment complexes at a staggering pace in the region.

However, Brown, embracing the business model of his late father, is amongst many company officials who believe that many competitors are ignoring statewide planning studies that project a growing long-term need for more affordable housing inventory.

"We go in, buy apartment complexes, and [immediately invest] $500,000 to $1 million to renovate them. We try to keep the prices moderate," Eisner explained. "In this Boston market, that's where our niche is, with working class or moderately-priced apartments."

"We keep properties forever and rarely sell what we buy," the company spokesman later said of his firm's corporate strategy. It's a good revenue stream that lasts forever."

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