Work begins on mill-site housing
An Atlanta-based developer has broken ground on the first phase of a project to convert a historic mill site in Melrose to rental housing.
Wood Partners intends to build 212 apartments in the initial phase of the development, 93 of which will be located in a renovated former mill building. Another 88 units would be added in a second phase, for a total of 300.
The overall 7.8-acre development area, once part of the site of a Boston Rubber Shoe Co. mill, is within a 15.5-acre “smart growth district’’ Melrose established in April 2008 on former industrial land on Washington Street.
Richard Dickason, Wood Partners’ managing director for the Northeast, said the firm began initial work on the first phase several weeks ago.
“I’m very excited,’’ he said. “This is my first opportunity to become involved in a historic renovation of a beautiful building. This is a tremendous opportunity for us in a spectacular city.’’
Wood Partners took over the project in May when it purchased the property from a prior developer, Stone Place Limited Partnership.
City officials have enthusiastically backed the project from its inception, and say they are pleased to have it underway.
“It creates another entryway to the city that respects the history of the property, revitalizes its use, and promotes smart growth, which limits motor vehicle transportation and protects the environment,’’ said Mayor Robert J. Dolan. “It also further creates, like [the nearby apartment complex] Oak Grove Village, a blossoming new neighborhood in our community that involves some new businesses and some new residents, and they will be welcomed with open arms.”
Denise M. Gaffey, the city’s director of planning and community development, said the project, Alta Stone Place, meets several key criteria of smart growth, including proximity to mass transit. It is near the Oak Grove MBTA station and it uses a site with existing infrastructure.
“We are not taking down any additional green space,” she said.
She said the revitalization of a historic building is another positive.
The Boston Rubber Shoe Co. built its mill at the site in the late 1800s, producing boots, shoes, and other footwear. In the 1940s, the property was sold to a division of Firestone, which manufactured latex at the site.
“These old mill buildings convert really nicely to housing, and it makes for a unique project,” Gaffey said, noting that the developer will also be carrying out streetscape improvements, including new landscaping and lights.
Gaffey said the overall project is estimated to generate a net gain of $600,000 in annual property tax revenue for the city, taking into account the added costs of city services. That tax benefit will not be fully realized until after five years because the city - through special legislation it secured last year - is allowing the developer to defer payment of a portion of its taxes during that period.
The first-phase plan calls for renovating the four-story wood-beam building that will house the 93 units and constructing three new buildings to house the remaining 115 units. Two of those will be four-story buildings with garage parking beneath, and the third a three-story building containing a clubhouse. Four small mill structures will be demolished on the 5.2-acre site.
The renovation will retain and enhance many of the mill building’s original features, including its copper gutters. The mill’s century-old brick smokestack will remain, as the centerpiece of a landscaped garden area.
Dickason said the first phase, targeted for completion by February 2013, is being financed by private lending.
The second phase calls for construction of two buildings to house 88 units on a 2.6-acre site that is separated from the first-phase site by Marty’s Furniture. An existing mill building would be razed. That represents a change from the previous developer’s plan, which called for renovating that building and constructing one new one.
“It’s not a building that is deemed historically significant by the city and it doesn’t lay out very well for residential use,” Dickason said.
Dickason said his firm needs to secure financing for the second phase, and it also needs approval from the Planning Board to amend its existing site plan to allow for the proposed changes. Provided it can clear both those hurdles, he said the second phase could begin next spring.
To comply with a city ordinance, Wood Partners plans to set aside 10 percent of the units it builds on the site as affordable. The rest will be market rate. Dickason said the first-phase apartments will be a mix of studios and units with one, two, and three bedrooms.
He said the firm is confident it can market the development, keying on young professionals and “empty nesters.”
Dickason said the project was attractive to his firm because of the site’s proximity to the MBTA station and downtown stores, and the chance to do a mill building conversion.
“I love history, and the historic significance of the mill building is pretty important to me and I think to a lot of people who live in that area,” said Dickason, whose wife has relatives who worked in the old shoe factory.