Green light for Fuller School plan

Courtesy photo/An artist’s rendering of the Fuller mixed-use complex, as proposed by the YMCA and its partners. The plans call for razing the school building, constructing a new YMCA facility and commercial space at top left, housing at bottom left, and retail space adjacent to the Gloucester Crossing complex at right.

The plan to revitalize Gloucester’s Fuller School site with a new YMCA, retail shops and a 200-unit rental housing complex has received a green light.

On a unanimous vote, the Planning Board endorsed creating an overlay zone that would allow development on the 10.6-acre site, sending a positive recommendation of the $67 million project to the City Council.

The vote came moments after attorney Deborah Eliason, speaking for the Fuller Mixed Use Ventures LLC partnership, closed out her remarks with a call for action after nearly two hours of discussion during a public hearing Thursday night.

“Our hope is to break ground this year,” she said, noting that the partners submitted their purchase proposal in November 2015 and applied for an overlay zone this January. “Not voting tonight would push (any City Council action into May), the council takes time to look at these things, and that would put us into June. We need to move ahead.”

But the Planning Board vote left it to city councilors to debate which option of the city’s affordable housing ordinance should be required of the project: 30 units of federally-recognized affordable housing on site, or a payment to the city in lieu of including 15 percent of the units as affordable. Fuller Mixed Use Ventures’ pending purchase-and-sale agreement would allow the latter.

“This (proposal) has already been driving the discussion about our need for affordable housing, and we have a very good study,” said board member Doug Cook, referring to the city’s new housing production plan. “Let’s keep pushing that discussion forward, but let’s not have it derail this project.”

Fuller Mixed Use Ventures — a partnership of the Cape Ann YMCA, Windover Construction and Sam Park & Company — is paying $5.6 million for the site. Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken considers the sale price as $4.1 million, with the remaining $1.5 million set aside to develop affordable housing at another location. The developers have said the project may not be financially viable if their own project includes the affordable units.

“We still think it’s a very good project,” Windover CEO Lee Dellicker said after the Planning Board gave its positive recommendation. He and retired YMCA of the North Shore CEO Jack Meany watched and listened from the front row Thursday night; both have played leading roles for the partnership in talks with the city in the purchase-and-sale deal.

“This was what we wanted; now we can move ahead,” Meany said.

What’s next

The Planning Board vote means the overlay zone will now be referred to the council’s Planning and Development Subcommittee for review on April 19, City Clerk Joanne Senos said Friday. The full council would then likely host a public hearing on the issue at its meeting April 25. The Planning Board and council would then address more specific designs for the project before the council could issue the needed special permit to go forward.

City Councilor Jamie O’Hara, however, said he was “shocked” that the Planning Board did not include some reference in the overlay zoning approval to seeking affordable housing units on site.

“We’re going to have to tackle it,” O’Hara said Friday. “I think we have an opportunity to gain a foothold on the affordable housing component. You look at the project with open eyes and in terms of dollars and cents, but when it comes to affordable housing, this is a real issue we should address.”

Planning Board member Shawn Henry noted that, while the overlay zone does not address the housing question, the city’s housing ordinance remains in play.

“I think there should be an effort to have the 30 affordable units up there,” Henry said of the Fuller site, noting the 200 units planned by the Dolben Company of Woburn posed other issues.

“This is already a big ask in terms of (housing) density. But I would hesitate to try to include an additional restriction on the overlay zone.

“There should still be that discussion,” he said, “but let’s move on.”

The Planning Board’s discussion Thursday night focused largely on issues such as parking and green space. Windover project manager Peter Gourdeau said the project calls for 300 parking spaces for the 200 residences, and up to 396 shared spaces for the new expanded YMCA and Park’s 25,000 square feet of new retail space. The plans also calls for 125,000 square feet of overall green space, he noted.

“Whatever isn’t a building or isn’t parking would be green space,” he said under questioning from Planning Board member Kenneth Hecht.

Eliason also emphasized that the partners would have no incentive to scrimp on parking.

“If we don’t provide adequate parking, people aren’t going to come,” she said. “They’re not going to come to work out, they’re not going to come to shop, they’re not going to come there to live.”

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

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