By Dustin Luca
---- — ANDOVER — A zoning proposal coming to Town Meeting aims to foster town-guided senior living development on a tract of land in western Andover.
The Senior Residential Community Overlay District (SRCOD) — article 26 for the guidelines, article 27 for the map modification — would add zoning options to a 113-acre parcel of land off of River Road.
The area is currently occupied by open space and the Franciscan Center.
If approved at Town Meeting, the zoning would add another layer of development opportunities to the site. The new option would become the preferred method of build-out because of its accelerated development process and ease to get approved, according to Paul Materazzo, Planning director.
The proposal was designed by the Franciscan Overlay Task Force. The committee of town residents and officials was created after Wingate Healthcare, with a facility on Andover Street, expressed interest in buying the land from the Franciscans and converting it to elderly housing in 2011.
Wingate eventually withdrew its interest in the site, but the task force’s work kept moving forward since elderly housing was identified as a need by the town two decades ago, according to Charlie Kendrick, task force chairman.
After seeing Wingate’s prior interest in the property and hearing rumblings that the Franciscans were looking to sell the land, town officials launched into developing the SRCOD district plan, according to Kendrick.
An attorney representing the Franciscans declined to comment on the zoning proposal.
The zoning responds to a general need for elderly housing that is facing an unprecedented level of stress, according to Kendrick.
A number of factors — rising property values, an aging population that is staying put instead of migrating after retirement, stagnant income levels and more — are “conspiring to put more pressure on the master plan,” Kendrick said. “It is harder to provide housing for people on modest incomes (here) than other parts of the country.”
As designed, the zoning proposal would allow the 113 acres within the zoning district to be built out to no more than 200 living units and 200 beds in assisted living, congregate living and skilled nursing.
Those numbers could change, however.
As designed, if a developer who purchases the land commits to keeping the Franciscan Center on-site, they’re entitled to a 15 percent boost in the number of units they can build, Materazzo said.
Additionally, the zoning proposal requires that a minimum of 30 percent of the land be set aside for open space. If 20 percent of common space is also added to the proposal, another 15 percent boost in unit counts is available, according to Materazzo.
Both measures would “preserve the greatest asset, which is the character itself,” Kendrick said.
All permits under the proposed zoning would go before the Planning Board for approval, according to Materazzo.
Whether it is approved or rejected at Town Meeting, developers could still use the other development opportunities available to the area, including single-family home developments, cluster developments and more.
Whether it’s approved or rejected, the town can only gain from the property being developed. Under its current ownership, the land isn’t taxed because of its religious purpose.
But with the elderly zoning in place, the town would help guide developers into building based on a design that officials feel would benefit the town.
“If the town passes the warrant, the town is ahead of the curve,” Kendrick said. “It becomes that much easier, much quicker, for the private sector to come in.”
SRCOD isn’t the only zoning proposal coming before Annual Town Meeting, slated for May 6-8 at the Andover High School’s field house.
Voters are also expected to vote on an Andover Transit Oriented Development District, which aims to rezone the Town Yard and parcels of land around it to allow mixed-use development. Voters will also hear a proposal for a new industrial zoning district on parts of Dascomb and River roads. Two other zoning amendments are expected: one for changes to awnings hanging over business entrances, and another to redefine retail sales establishments and fast food restaurants.