Another try for condo project Hendrie’s project returning to board
MILTON — It’s been more than a year since developer Steve Connelly took down the 200-year-old oak tree in front of the long-vacant Hendrie’s ice cream factory on Eliot Street, saying it was too decayed to survive construction on the site.
The tree’s gone, the factory’s still boarded up, and there’s still no sign of the condominium and commercial building that Connelly wants to put up there. He first applied to the Planning Board for a special permit in July 2010.
But the board’s new chairman, Alexander Whiteside, says he’s confident the permit process is nearing an end.
“It’s gone on long enough, and it really is time to get that building taken down and something better in its place,” Whiteside said last week. “I think that things are moving forward. Not everyone will be totally happy, but certainly not everyone will be totally unhappy. I would hope that by the end of July, they would have a permitted project.”
Two years is “on the high side” for a project to get through a municipal permitting process, according to Kingston’s planner, Thomas Bott, the regional representative in the state’s chapter of the American Planning Association.
But “there isn’t an average time,” Bott said. “We have had instances where somebody was in and out in two meetings, and we’ve had some that have dragged on for a year or more. It’s dependent on the project, the applicant, and, to some extent, the board. There are some boards who are more friendly to growth” than others.
“As we say in parenting and in government, it all depends,” he added.
The Planning Board is scheduled to review the proposal for the Hendrie’s property at 131 Eliot St. during its meeting next Thursday.
The site was the original home of Bent’s Cookie Co., famous for the hardtack it supplied Civil War troops and for its water crackers.
In 1930, Hendrie’s opened an ice cream factory there, and a decade later added its popular Dairy Bar, according to the Milton Historical Society. Customers often would eat their treats under the shade of the massive oak tree.
Hendrie’s has been gone for decades, and Connelly’s original plan — calling for a building with 38 condominiums and about 7,500 square feet of commercial space, along with 98 parking spaces — was heralded by town officials as a welcome addition to the Central Avenue village business district.
But public support was tested when the developer cut down the old oak, citing an arborist’s report that the 50-foot-tall tree was decayed, posed a public hazard, and couldn’t survive any nearby construction. An arborist for the Planning Board said the landmark tree could have been saved.
Since then, the Planning Board and developer have disagreed over other matters relating to the project.
Whiteside said those issues include the height of the building, how to determine the number of stories allowed, and how the upper floors are set back from the street. There’s also a question of what the developer should provide in public amenities to make up for axing the oak tree, he said.
Connelly complained at a meeting earlier this year about the board’s demands and lack of resolution. He could not be reached for comment this week.
Some residents who support the development have written to the Planning Board, asking it to approve the permit so the new complex can go up and the town can start collecting more tax revenue from the site.
“I drive by it every day, and anything is better that what is there now,” said Eric Seamans, who was among those writing to the Planning Board. “It’s mind-boggling that they can’t come to an agreement.”
But others have urged the Planning Board not to rush the process. The Columbine Cliff Neighborhood Association, which represents about 900 households in the area, sent a letter to the board last month supporting the decision to keep its review open “until all design issues are resolved.”
Peter Mullin, a Town Meeting member from the area, said people also are concerned about the safety of the existing building, which has been boarded up for years. An engineering study performed for the developer found that the building was safe, and the town is awaiting results of an independent engineering study, according to Town Administrator Kevin Mearn.
“We did a site walk with the fire chief, building inspector, and engineer, and I don’t think there’s any real immediate issue with public safety,” Mearn said. “But the town wants to do its due diligence.”
Whiteside remained optimistic that the impasse between the developer and the board could be broken. The height issue, for example, is only a matter of inches, he said.
The zoning rules allow the new building to be 45 feet tall; the design is just several inches too tall, he said. But those inches have to be cut before the building meets the requirements, he said.
“Next meeting, hopefully, the developer will come in with a plan that dots the i’s,’’ and the board will agree with that, Whiteside said.
Johanna Seltz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.