LAWRENCE — The city’s mills seem to be making a renaissance of sorts, with developers gobbling up hundreds of thousands of square feet of high ceilings, hardwood floors and brick exteriors, turning old industrial space into cozy, new apartments.
Wednesday night, the five-member Planning Board unanimously approved three projects that will eventually bring 338 new apartments — and up to 1,000 new residents — to the city.
The reason, said one developer, is pent-up demand.
“The economy in the city is strong,” said Dan Drazen, vice president of development for Trinity Financial, which got approval for 83 units of mostly affordable housing at 608 Broadway, near the old Polartec factory. “There was such a dearth of development for so long in Lawrence, we are really just addressing the backlog and making up for a time when there wasn’t a lot happening in the city.”
The board voted unanimously for Drazen’s proposal, which converts about a quarter of what’s now known as the Mariner Mill on Broadway into workforce and low-income housing. The mill is actually owned by Lawrence Community Works, or LCW, which inked a deal with Trinity to develop 120,000 square feet of the 450,000 square foot complex.
LCW, Drazen said, will eventually be converting the remaining 330,000 square feet of the building into a mixed-use complex of commercial and residential.
In October, Drazen and his team at Trinity, which is based in Boston, held a ribbon-cutting ceremony with city and state officials for the 102-unit Trinity Place, which is adjacent to the 608 Broadway building. It is also open to low- and moderate-income residents.
Their new project, being built with a mix of historic tax credits and affordable housing tax credits, is scheduled to start construction in the fall of 2020 and be fully leased by the fall of 2022. It will be a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units, starting at 735 square feet for a one-bedroom and 1,031 square feet for a two-bedroom. The three-bedrooms will be even larger.
Drazen said he and other developers are bullish on Lawrence.
“People want to live here,” he said. “The image of Lawrence is definitely changing.”
He noted that Lowell and Haverhill have done a good job redeveloping their historic mills, and that more and more people are looking at Lawrence as the next opportunity.
“The city has a really rich, historic fabric,” he said.
Another historic section of the city, known as Pacific Mills, is also on tap for more improvements.
Developer Brady-Sullivan, based in Manchester, N.H., Wednesday night sought and received approval for 176 new apartments in Building 1 of its Canal Street complex of mill buildings.
The project is actually Phase 3 of a plan that started back in 2012. Phases 1 and 2 have been completed, explained project manager Barry Donohoe, and are comprised of two buildings that have been turned into 169 market-rate apartments, which are all rented.
The final phase will more than double the number of residential units on the site, with the big issue being parking.
Wednesday night, engineer Stephen Sawyer of Design Consultants Inc. explained that the original, 2012 requirement for the whole complex, fully built-out, was for 560 parking spaces. He explained there are currently 350 spaces on site for the first two phases.
For the final phase, 217 spaces will be built in the basement of the building being renovated, with another 37 spaces under the Casey Bridge. Finally, 63 more spaces are to be leased at Pemberton Park, for a total of 657 spaces, he said.
Donohoe said the developer is in the final negotiations with the city for use of parking under the Casey Bridge. Planning Board members expressed some concern about lighting and safety, due to people walking from remote parking lots to their apartments. Donohoe explained that lights and security cameras will be installed throughout the development site and wherever tenants will be parking.
The apartments will be rented at market-rates, Donohoe said, noting that renters in the first two phases have been mostly single people in the their 20s and 30s. The 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom apartments will all be at least 1,000 square feet.
20-30 Island St.
Finally, a third proposal vetted and approved last night by the Planning Board came from Lawrence Community Works, the same group involved in the 608 Broadway project.
This one also provides more affordable units for the city.
LCW got approval for 79 apartments in two buildings at 20-30 Island St., near what is known as Ferrous Park. The proposal calls for the construction of two buildings, one with 40 apartments, the other with 39, to be constructed in two, separate phases. They will be sold as affordable housing since LCW is seeking low-income housing tax credits.
The first phase is scheduled to start construction in the spring of 2021, and be fully occupied by the summer of 2022, said project manager Spencer Buchholz. The second building would start construction soon after, with completion slated for the spring/summer of 2023, he said.
The project is being built as family housing, so at least one playground is planned for the site along with connection to the adjacent Ferrous Park, which is owned by GroundWork Lawrence, according to landscape architect Heather Heimarck.
The buildings will be a mix of one-, two-, three- and even four-bedroom apartments, ranging in size from 620 square feet at the smallest to 1,350 square feet for the four bedroom, of which there are only four.
Parking will be provided on-site and the developer has worked closely with the Fire Department to insure full access to all the buildings from anywhere on the site.
LCW also developed the nearby Duck Mill at 4 Union St. and the former Southwick suit-making factory at 50 Island St. into housing.