STONEHAM - The Montvale Plaza will eventually be met by a wrecking ball.
During a recent meeting in Town Hall, the Planning Board in a 4-to-1 vote okayed Quincy-based Jumbo Self Storage's proposal to raze the Stoneham landmark and replace the function hall with a 4-story, self-storage facility.
Those sanctioning the special permit application, though acknowledging they are sad to see the Montvale Plaza close its doors, argued the proposed low-impact storage business is perfect for the 1.23-acre property off of Montvale Avenue.
The petitioner, who has apparently reached unspecified financial terms with longtime Montvale Plaza owner Marty Murphy to purchase the popular banquet hall near Lindenwood Cemetery, did not outline a timeline for the project.
"I think it's sad we're going to lose the Montvale Plaza, but I think this is a much more suitable use for the area," said Planning Board member Daniel Moynihan, who over a decade ago, acted as Murphy's attorney to save the banquet hall during a zoning dispute regarding the property.
"Part of me would like to see a catering business continue," later agreed Planning Board veteran Kevin Dolan. "It's been a hallmark of Stoneham for over 60 years, but it's just not feasible for this site."
As of late last week, the plaza was still actively holding functions. In a recent interview with The Stoneham Independent, Murphy assured customers that he will be honoring all recent event bookings, as it will be quite some time before the business officially closes its doors.
Before breaking ground on the redvelopment, the new property owner will still have to obtain site plan approval from the Board of Selectmen for the self-storage facility, which at a proposed 120,000 square feet, will dwarf the size of the existing 30,000 square foot banquet hall.
According to Main Street attorney Charles Houghton, who is representing the Quincy company, Murphy has begun planning for retirement and immediately realized that few buyers would be interested in purchasing a banquet hall with such limited parking.
The Medford native, who before coming to Stoneham earned a solid reputation in the catering industry, has struggled with parking issues ever since he bought the Montvale Plaza back in 1998 for around $1 million.
With just 76 on-site parking spaces, Murphy, who offers free valet service for all functions, has managed to juggle the problem by inking multiple leases with other area merchants. Valet staff then shuttle visitors' cars over to those offsite parking areas, some of which are some distance away from the building.
Murphy has also purchased an adjacent building, which once housed a car stereo business, to expand access to onsite parking.
"We all know the Montvale Plaza has been in there for a long time and is an institution in Stoneham. But Marty is getting to the age where it's time to retire," explained Houghton.
"There's not a lot of good uses for that site. Obviously, a banquet hall has a parking issue," the local lawyer furthered. "Marty has been able to deal with that very gracefully, but it would be very difficult to keep that up with another entity. That's a reality we have to deal with."
By contrast, Jumbo Storage will have just 10 onsite parking spaces for customers at the redevelopment.
According to Houghton, that number of spaces is consistent with the demand at Stoneham's two other self-storage facilities, including another warehouse further down Montvale Avenue by the Stoneham Arena and a larger and more recently constructed business on Fallon Road.
Members of Stoneham's Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) have apparently agreed with that parking assessment, as the town officials have already issued a variance granting the Quincy firm significant relief from the zoning requirement that 169 parking spaces be provided.
"This is an appropriate location for this use. Given the area and the way we've designed this building, it certainly fits and fits much better than the current use. Nothing is done in a vacuum. Between this use and Marty's use, there's no nuisance to pedestrians and vehicles. We'd be decreasing the amount of traffic," Houghton contended.
"Even though the building is three times the size, it is a less intense use," agreed Dolan. "Some people might say, 'We'd like to see a use that brings more vibrancy to the area,' but I don't thick we need more vibrancy on Montvale Avenue. It's bumper-to-bumper traffic there 16 hours a day."
The self-storage proposal has reportedly been endorsed by a number of residential abutters, as well as by the owner of the adjacent strip mall, which is popularly known as Montvale Place.