Developer, neighbors to talk housing

Staff file photoDevelopers have downsized plans for housing at 116 East Main St., formerly the site of Espresso's restaurant.

A dormant East Main Street restaurant property targeted for a condominium project will serve a new role Monday evening — as an outdoor community meeting hall.

Ward 1 City Councilor Scott Memhard, working with representatives of Son LLC of Beverly and Bevilacqua Co. Builders of Wellesley, will host a neighborhood meeting in the parking lot of the former Espresso's Italian Grille to discuss plans for what is now an eight-unit development in two new buildings on the site at 116 East Main St.

The open meeting, set to begin at 7 p.m., comes as Son LLC scale backs what had initially been filed as a three-building, 10-unit development, with one unit deemed affordable under state and federal income guidelines. Son LLC has a purchase-and-sale agreement with Gloucester Espresso Inc. on the property for $600,000, city records show.

"We tried to have the meeting inside the old Espresso's, but unfortunately, it was deemed not to be safe," Memhard said of the Monday forum. The defunct Espresso's, which had previously been the Harbor House, shut down and the owners declared bankruptcy in August 2015. In the event of rain, the forum will move to City Hall, Memhard said.

The proposal has been whittled down from 10 to nine units and now to eight, according to documents submitted to the city, Memhard said. Plans now also call for parking to be beneath the residences, he said. The property measures 0.68 acres and is now assessed for $551,200, city records show. 

Monday's meeting will come after some neighbors joined in a site visit last month by the city's Zoning Board of Appeals, and after an April Zoning Board public hearing that was continued to July 26.

"My sense is that the developers have tried to be sensitive to neighbors' concerns when it comes to the size and scope of the project," Memhard said. "But I know neighbors still have concern over the density (of the housing) and some traffic issues, so this will be a chance to talk all of this out."

Gloucester attorney Sal Frontiero, representing Son LLC, said the purchase-and-sale agreement remains contingent on the developer being able to get permits for the property. He also emphasized that the buyer has made several changes to the plans since an initial filing sparked neighborhood opposition.

The two-building format eliminates plans for a building that would have been closest to the street, and the proposal calls for twice the number of parking spaces required by the city's zoning regulation for a development of that size.

Zoning Board Chairman David Gardner, an attorney, had urged the developers and neighbors to get together and hash out some key issues.

"It's always good for the parties to sit down and get an understanding of the other," Gardner said Thursday, "then, see if they can reach some sort of accommodation. If they can, they can, if they can't, they can't. Then it would be up to the board to decide. But it's good to hear that they're having this meeting."

Even since the Espresso's 2015 bankruptcy, 116 East Main St. has been eyed for other uses. Two years ago, it was among the sites under very preliminary consideration to be part of a new East Gloucester Elementary School, in part because the site borders a ledge at the end of the current school property.

Then, last year, pending buyer Dennis Senecal proposed to return to the site to use as a restaurant and bar when the city opened proposals for the year-round liquor licensee that had been pulled from Espresso's. The city's Licensing Board, however, awarded the open license to Topside Grill & Pub on Rogers Street.

Ray Lamont can be reached at 978-675-2705, or rlamont@gloucestertimes.com.

IF YOU GO

What: Neighborhood meeting hosted by Ward 1 Councilor Scott Memhard regarding condominium project proposed for former Espresso's site at 116 East Main St.

When: Monday, July 16, 7 p.m.

Where: Parking lot of the 116 East Main St. site.