The Marblehead Planning Board on Aug. 9 began discussions on the town’s portion of a 140-unit housing complex that has been proposed for the former site of the Gen. Glover House restaurant abutting the Tedesco Country Club golf course at the intersection of Vinnin and Salem streets.
Of the 140 units, which would be contained in three, four-story buildings, 44 would be in Marblehead, 11 of which (25 percent) would be affordable units.
Of those, 25 would be one-bedroom units, and the other 19 would be two-bedroom units.
On the Marblehead portion of the site, there would be 88 residential parking spaces, including 43 in a parking garage and 45 on a surface lot, a ratio of two parking spaces per bedroom.
By contrast, on the Swampscott portion of the site, only one parking space has been allocated per bedroom.
The project is being proposed under Smart Growth Plans Marblehead and Swampscott each adopted under G.L.c. 40R. In addition to being approved by Town Meeting, the plans, which create an overlay district allowing multifamily development as of right and impose certain design standards (see Swampscott version below), were subject to the review of the state Department of Housing and Community Development.
As recounted in the Marblehead Housing Production Plan adopted by the Select Board and the Planning Board on May 27, 2020, the town adopted two smart growth districts following a study in 2008.
The Vinnin Square District, where the Gen. Glover property is located, allows both multifamily and mixed-use development by right. Development is permitted on lots of at least 10,000 square feet with a maximum of 40 dwelling units per acre and a maximum 42 feet in height.
The other smart growth district covers a parcel along Pleasant Street between School Street and Essex Street where the former YMCA was located.
In the Pleasant Street District, mixed-use development is primarily allowed by right, but the Planning Board can permit multifamily development if it determines that the inclusion of a nonresidential use at the street level would unduly restrict opportunities for development.
Development is allowed on a lot of at least 10,000 square feet up to a maximum residential
density of 51 units per acre at a maximum height of 50 feet in the Pleasant Street District.
While the developer, Leggat McCall Properties, and its design and architectural professionals gave the board a detailed presentation, the Planning Board took no votes Aug. 9 beyond agreeing to continue discussion of the plans at future meetings.
Town Planner Rebecca Curran Cutting noted that while Marblehead and Swampscott would be coordinating certain aspects of the review process, so as not to duplicate efforts, the project will ultimately need approvals in both towns.
Among the issues raised at the Planning Board meeting is that the developer is requesting relief to exceed the height allowed for the project. By right, it could have built 42-foot-tall, four-story buildings with flat roofs but is instead seeking to construct the buildings with 49-feet-high pitched roofs so that the building’s architecture fits in more with the character of the neighborhood.
The complex would also include a centrally located pool, clubhouse and other amenities for residents’ use. A buffer of trees and other plantings along the perimeter of the site would seek to lessen the complex’s visual impact.
Over the course of the discussion, Planning Board members offered various suggestions to the developer.
Edward O. Nilsson commented that the project could perhaps be improved by converting some of the parking area shown on the plans into a communal green space that the residents could enjoy, a suggestion that William Gause, Leggat McCall’s executive vice president and partner, indicated would be considered.
Member Barton Hyte complemented the developer on the design but suggested pivoting what is shown on the plans as Building No. 1, which would abut Vinnin Street, to lessen the visual impact of the project along what is something of a gateway into the town.
Architect Thad Siemasko was a bit less receptive to this suggestion and tried to assure the board that the orientation of the three buildings had gone through a number of iterations before settling on the preferred one that had been presented.
In response to a question from board member Andrew Christensen, Cutting noted that the town’s police and fire departments have until Sept. 15 to offer their assessment of the project, making clear that this was just the first of multiple meetings.
Nilsson also raised the possibility of finding some way to honor Gen. John Glover, if and when the project is developed. Gause replied that his company had not yet even given thought to naming the development.
Gause added that, to the extent that there are artifacts on the property that could be salvaged, they would be open to facilitating that process.
“But the [former restaurant] building is falling in on itself,” he said.