© The Stoneham Independent

STONEHAM, MA - Local citizens this week sanctioned a rezoning initiative needed to facilitate the sale of the old Stoneham Lodge of Elks Hall along Main Street by Hancock Street for a future development.

During the Annual Town Meeting on Monday night in Town Hall's auditorium, the assembly voted unanimously in favor of rezoning a parking lot at 5 Linden St., situated behind the old social club, as part of Stoneham's central business district. The change will enable the Woburn Elks to maximize the resale value of both adjoining parcels, which is roughly situated along Main Street between Linden and Hancock Streets.

In the spring of 2017, members of Stoneham's fraternal organization approached Woburn's Lodge of Elks, headquartered on Washington Street by Salem Street, to seek a merger of both clubs. Three months later, the Woburn Elks decided to dispose of the function hall at 471 Main St., a brick-facade structure dating back to 1910 that contains a little over 5,100 square feet of space.

A re-designation of the parking area to the central business district, a zone that sits in and around the immediate vicinity of Stoneham Square, will allow a future buyer to redevelop the building by Royal Roast Beef and the old Dairy Dome property into a mixed-use development.

"The first floor in that area is typically a business use, with retail or offices, and above that is housing," said local attorney Charles Houghton, describing the layout of most surrounding central business district properties.

According to Houghton, representing the Woburn Lodge of Elks, the issue with that development concept surrounds the split zoning of the two parcels, as the parking area on Linden Street is located within an R2 or two-family district. The elongated lot is capable of holding about 30 cars.

For that reason, any future owner of the social club would be prohibited from erecting a larger new multi-story building at 471 Main St., if that plan entails the continued use of the parking lot for future business and residential tenants.

The Elks Lodge was allowed to sidestep the zoning rules as a pre-existing, non-conforming user of the land as a parking lot. Those grandfather protections would technically continue for the next landowner, but only if the proprietor maintained the building as is without making major financial investments into it.

However, according to Houghton, such renovations would be nearly impossible given the condition of the building, which he classified as in need of major repairs. The local lawyer also referenced portions of the building code which deem grandfather protections as being abandoned, when rehabilitation work exceeding 30 percent of a structure's total value is made to a pre-existing property.

Currently, the Stoneham assessor's office values the structure at 471 Main St. at $167,000. Woburn Elks officials say they are looking to sell the land for at least $900,000.

"The building needs a lot of work. It is not salvageable, and you couldn't do anything to that building for $49,000," said Houghton.

The rezoning petition, voted upon as Article 7, was supported by Stoneham's Planning Board, which characterized the described redevelopment as appropriate for the surrounding neighborhood.

"It will not impact the neighborhood. There's a parking lot there now and what's proposed is a parking lot," said Planning Board Chairman August Niewenhous.

Proponents of the Elks hall redevelopment have suggested a new mixed-use building will generate as much as $30,000 in annual real-estate taxes. The old social club owners, as members of a charitable organization, were tax-exempt and thus were not assessed a real-estate bill.

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