EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 21, 2013

Former college campus could be used for housing

Future of former college campus in Chester starting to take shape

By John Toole

---- — CHESTER — The former Chester College campus could be developed for senior housing.

Chester resident Peter Smith has met with the Planning Board for a preliminary discussion, but hasn’t put formal plans for the Chester Street property before the town.

“There are variances from our zoning he has to go through,” planning coordinator Cynthia Robinson said. “This is all pending on whether he gets the variances.”

Smith told planning officials he would develop apartments for seniors, possibly involving conversion of dorm rooms.

Smith would acquire the bulk of the property. Robinson estimated he would control about 75 percent of the campus, including the former library.

Chris Norwood of NAI Norwood Group of Bedford has marketed the property on behalf of trustees for the former college, which closed last year amid financial difficulties.

The 70-acre campus, which had been listed for $2.65 million, would be subdivided to accommodate Smith’s plan, Norwood said.

“It would leave two lots in front,” Norwood said.

Those include three buildings, according to Robinson, the former administrative offices, Nutting Hall and the Dalrymple Student Center.

Norwood speculated those lots could be developed either for housing or the existing institutional and educational uses approved by the town, or for small retail and offices.

Smith did not return a phone call.

Michelle Stein last year acquired the former Douglas Hall, where she relocated her Bittersweet Blessings shop from nearby Derry Road.

Operators of Granite House, a sober house in Derry, last year briefly explored expansion to the campus, but backed off in the face of opposition from residents who erroneously thought they might be getting a correctional halfway house.

The future of the former campus has concerned residents and town officials since the college closed last year.

The campus is located in the center of Chester, which resembles a traditional New England village.

Stuart Arnett, a consultant who has led a town planning forum on the future of the campus, last month said that’s one of the things that makes the campus property special.

“It is the location and real integration with the village,” Arnett said. “This is a very nice New England center.”

Arnett is planning a followup meeting with town officials for the public. That is expected to be announced soon.

Arnett is aware of Smith’s plan and has met him.

“He is not doing assisted living,” Arnett said. “These are apartments for people over 55 or 65, whatever.”

Arnett stressed his work is on a separate track from that of Smith.

“We’re not trying to become a planning board,” Arnett said. “We don’t want to evaluate anything he is doing.”

Arnett will be making some suggestions to the town about what might be done to guide development of the campus, with a range of options.

The focus is on the road frontage.

“The front 10 acres are critical,” Arnett said.

At forums, residents have said they would welcome small retail uses, housing or continued educational uses for the property.

Selectmen expect to put a zoning proposal before voters at Town Meeting next month to protect the community’s interests.

“There will be something,” selectmen’s vice chairman Joseph Hagan said. “There is interest among town members, and us, that we keep some kind of control over this so we don’t lose the town center.”