EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 17, 2014

Salem residents concerned about more senior housing

Proposals include two projects on table and 64 new homes

By Doug Ireland
direland@eagletribune.com

---- — SALEM — Residents are concerned two senior housing projects, which would mean nearly 70 new homes, would overwhelm their neighborhoods.

The Planning Board heard requests Tuesday for two developments that call for 46 single-family homes to be built on Pond Street and an 18 additional homes on Pleasant Street.

The 46 homes at 67-73 and 77 Pond St. are planned by developer Timothy Oriole of Pelham on the former Edward Searles property. The second project at 30 Pleasant St. is proposed by local developer John Swiniarski, town planner Ross Moldoff said.

Both are proposed under the town’s senior housing ordinance. The 15-year-old ordinance’s density requirements allow more homes to be built if they are designated for people 55 and older, Moldoff said.

He estimated four times as many homes could be built on a typical site under the ordinance.

Many communities across the state adopted similar elderly housing ordinances 10 to 15 years ago to serve their senior citizens, according to New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority spokesman Ben Frost. Several projects were built in Windham under the town’s ordinance, community development director Laura Scott said.

Moldoff said the scope of both Salem proposals worries neighbors and he told the Planning Board it should perhaps revisit the measure. Chairman Robert Campbell agreed Wednesday the board may have to take a look at the ordinance.

“I’m not sure the community needs this much senior housing,” he said. “It perhaps provides more density than we want.”

Approximately 20 residents turned out Tuesday to hear the project presentations. The board will continue to review the projects after making a series of recommendations to the applicants.

These are the first senior housing projects to come before the board in several years, Moldoff said. Eight senior housing projects have been approved since voters adopted the ordinance in 1998. There are about a dozen in town.

“It is unusual to have two large projects on the same agenda,” he said. “The room was full of abutters concerned about the project.”

They included William Quinlan of 79 Pond St. He said the Stone Bridge Estates project would disrupt his quiet neighborhood.

“Fifty homes in back of my house, c’mon,” Quinlan said. “Just don’t go through with this. We don’t want it. I just wish this project was somewhere else.”

Gene Hulshult, who lives at 4 Cooper Beech Drive, is also is concerned.

“I still think 46 units is a lot for this lot,” he told the board. “I would wish you would look at where you are putting it and the reasons you are putting it there.”

The development would be built on 25 acres of what was once the sprawling Searles estate, according to project engineer Karl Dubay.

“We are proud of this project,” Dubay said.

Searles, a wealthy interior decorator best known for the English-style stone castle in Windham that bears his name, owned several hundred acres in Salem, Windham and Methuen, Dubay said. The Methuen native died in 1920.

Although the property will be occupied by several dozen homes, its turn-of-the-century caretaker’s cottage, stone walls, bridges and turrets will be incorporated into the project, Dubay said.

The caretaker’s cottage would serve as an office and also a meeting place for residents, Dubay said. The proposal, first presented last spring, also calls for numerous walking trails and a large English-style garden.

Dubay said Wednesday developers hope to receive final approval in time for construction to start this spring. They will continue to work with the town and neighbors, he said.

The Pleasant Street project was criticized by Trailer Home Drive resident Michael Frigon and Richard Dunn of Cornwell Court. The 18 homes would be built on 11 acres. Frigon and Dunn are concerned about the number of homes, increased traffic and stormwater issues in the flood-prone neighborhood.

“I would like to see it thrown out totally,” Frigon said of the proposal. “It is going to put too much pressure on our property.”

Dunn agreed.

“This is a shock to me seeing this come to us,” he said. “You add more traffic down there and you are going to have a serious situation. I hope you give this a lot of consideration.”

Project representative Kurt Meisner said the issues raised by the town and neighbors would be addressed.