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Winchester

From Pansy Patch to town houses $600k and up

The historic Henry Grover House will become town houses at Graystone at Winchester. The historic Henry Grover House will become town houses at Graystone at Winchester.
By Bella Travaglini
Globe Correspondent / May 17, 2009
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What was once known as Winchester's Pansy Patch will soon be transformed into a tony town house development geared to empty-nesters, with prices starting in the high $600,000s for the two- and three-bedroom homes.

Graystone at Winchester, a $35 million development of 50 luxury town homes on land purchased in 2006 by Duffy Properties of Waltham, broke ground April 29 at a 10-acre site across the street from Mahoney's Garden Center on Cambridge Street.

The town made way for the development at the 2006 fall Town Meeting, when a landslide vote created new zoning for the parcel that allows attached residential cluster homes. The land was previously zoned for single-family homes.

In spite of a decline in the real estate market overall, Winchester is one of a few Bay State communities seeing an upturn in condominium sales, said Peter Van Aken, a member of the Planning Board.

"It's not surprising," Van Aken said. "We have a terrific school system, the town is well-run with a huge base of volunteers, and we're conveniently located on the commuter rail."

Graystone is one of three residential developments underway in Winchester, along with an 88-unit assisted living project at the former Winning Farm and an age-restricted development of 62 garden-style town houses at the former Wright-Locke-Hamilton Farm, often referred to as Hamilton Farm.

The town took pains in guiding the direction for each project, Van Aken said. A developer who had approached the town early on in the sales process at Pansy Patch proposed to build 200 apartment-style, affordable housing units, but the town steered clear of that proposal because of density issues and resident opposition, Van Aken said.

According to Van Aken and Duffy Properties, the Graystone development has a market for those who want to downsize but remain in town and for those who left and would like to come back.

"Graystone is designed for a lifestyle suitable for older folks - possibly more established," Van Aken said. "Given the cost, it may not be desirable for young families, but that's not to say there won't be any."

In July 2007, the town purchased the 20-acre parcel formerly known as Hamilton Farm after Town Meeting voted in favor of a $14 million override, thwarting an offer from developer AvalonBay Communities, which proposed to build up to 300 residential units at that site.

"We looked at their plans and we were appalled with the infrastructure," Van Aken said.

The town won approval at the 2007 Town Meeting to sell a portion of the 20-acre lot to Abbott Real Estate Development while preserving a portion for town ownership, overseen by a conservancy board. A zoning bylaw was amended to allow for cluster housing.

In June 1996, Town Meeting approved the purchase of a 44-acre portion of Winning Farm, which spans Winchester, Woburn, and Lexington. At a Special Town Meeting in February 2000, the town voted to sell a 12.5-acre parcel to Salter Healthcare Group to build an assisted-living facility, with a portion preserved for walking trails and conservation land. Town Meeting also voted to create a zoning overlay district to allow for independent elderly housing.

Some conditions of the Winning Farm sale were opposed by residents, but in June 2005, in an agreement between the developer and neighbors, the project was scaled back. Construction at both locations is underway.

Duffy Properties purchased the Pansy Patch lot in February 2006 for $7 million through an auction, Duffy said.

Winchester's newest residential project, slated for a spring 2010 completion, will bring in an estimated $300,000 in added tax revenue for the town, said Duffy.

Duffy Properties engaged in three years of negotiations with town officials during the permitting process, which included preserving The Henry Grover House and implementing measures to protect Winter Pond at the rear of the property.

As part of the agreement, the historic home will be converted into two town houses. On May 7, the 1885 house, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, was moved from its original foundation to a new, more prominent location at the entrance to the property.

The developer had considered building a commercial development at Pansy Patch, but determined it wouldn't be economically viable given the gully that runs down the center of the property.

"Not all of the 10 acres is usable," Duffy said.

Five of the 50 Graystone town homes will be affordable units as part of the agreement, with pricing starting at $167,000 for a two-bedroom unit, Duffy said.

Winchester currently has about 150 units of affordable housing, or 2 percent of its total inventory, said Melvin Kleckner, town manager. The state law known as Chapter 40B requires communities to have at least 10 percent of their housing stock affordable.

Each building at Graystone will have two or three attached units and all will have first-floor master suites. All buildings will have basements, some with walk-outs, said Elsbeth Pratt of the Collaborative Cos., the firm handling marketing and sales for Graystone.

The town homes range from 2,000 to 2,600 square feet and will be among the first in the state to receive the National Association of Home Builders Green Housing Certification, according to the developer.

Prices range from the high $600,000s to high $800,000s.

Bella Travaglini can be reached at bellatrav@gmail.com.

Winchester at a glance

Population: 22,284

Median age: 41.1

Median household income in 2007: $115,510

Fiscal 2009 tax rate: $10.62

Value of average single-family home: $773,000

Amount of average single-family tax bill: $8,209.26

SOURCES: Town of Winchester, www.city-data.com