New Condos at Old Middle School Face Stiff Opposition

Groom Construction describes new 41 condos that would be priced from $300,000 to $2 million.


The builders of the town's first school in 1894 knew they were giving future students one of the best views of the harbor. 

But they probably never dreamed that 120 years later condominiums built to take advantage of that same view might be valued at $2 million.

The 41 condominiums proposed for the site at 71 Greenwood Ave. would be priced from the $300,000s with the penthouses being listed at $2 million, Bill DiMento, the attorney for , said Monday night.

That is, if the new condos win approval from two town boards.

About 40 residents showed up for the Planning Board's first public hearing on the proposed condominiums Monday night at the . The Zoning Board of Appeals will meet on the same project next week. 

Together the Planning and Zoning Boards have broad authority over the design and scope of the condominium building.

Architect Jim Velleco with Grazad Velleco of Marblehead described the four-story, 104,000-square-foot project as "more open to the sky" than the existing middle school building. "It will provide a good feeling," he said.

Neighbor Ellie Miller disagreed. "There are only 41 residents in the whole neighborhood. Another 41 units will destroy us," she said.

Groom Construction's land planner and architect said the new building will be much smaller than the old Middle School. The new linear-style building will be 86 feet wide facing Greenwood Ave., as compared to the long vacant school building, which is 186 feet wide.

The new residential building will be 11 feet lower at its peak and three feet lower at its base than the school building, Velleco said.

20 percent smaller

Its footprint will be about 20 percent less than the school's, and it will be about 100 feet away from the property line abutting the six homes on Greenwood Terrace, Bill Bergeron with Hayes Engineering said.

Ken Shutzer, an attorney for 10 of the neighbors of the project, told the board it did not matter that the new condo building would be smaller or shorter than the old school building.

The school building is going to be razed. The question the board has to decide, Shutzer said, is whether the proposed 41-unit building is compatible with the neighborhood.

Since there are mostly single-family houses in the neighborhood, he said, "There is no way looking at Greenwood Avenue that this building fits the character of the neighborhood."

The neighbors are concerned about the density of the project and the impacts it will have on flooding, traffic and noise.

The runoff water, which now cascades off the rear of the property, would be controlled with catch basins and piping that directs the water into the storm sewer system, Groom's team of experts said. The new drainage system would help relieve some of the flooding issues of the neighborhood, they said.

A traffic study estimates that the 41 units and possibly 82 cars would produce a manageable 25 trips during the morning rush hour and 29 in the afternoon. During weekdays the condos would produce less than 300 vehicle trips per day.

When Bergeron said the traffic study shows there will be "no preceptable impact on traffic in the neighborhood," the crowd gasped.

Most of the neighbors fear that the 41 new units will exacerbate the high volume of traffic in the neighborhood.

Myron Stone, who spoke in favor of the project, said the traffic at the residences could not be worse than it was when the school was operating.

Other supporters said they were tired of looking at the old school building and thought the new project would look fine.

Some neighbors were concerned that half of the parking spaces and the garage entrance to the other half of the 87 parking spaces were on the north side of the building, which abuts Greenwood Terrace. They wanted more trees and landscaping to protect their backyards from the noise and lights of the cars.

The Planning Board, after listening to more than an hour of debate on the project, continued the hearing until its meeting on August 13.    

Ryan Adams July 11, 2012 at 09:37 PM
Fiona, That is simply not true. There's been public meetings on this property for years now, incorporating what and what not developers were allowed to build. These meetings were open to anyone, including Greenwood Ave residents, every step of the way. I attended at least one of them... years ago. I deeply resent the notion that when suddenly the project is getting nearer to final approval, suddenly nearby residents are screaming that they haven't been involved in the process. That you don't necessarily like the results doesn't mean nearby residents were somehow excluded from an entirely open process to set the conditions for which developers were allowed to build. Our town has rushed some proposals forward, trying to push them through (and often failing because they rushed it).... but *this* project, which has been going on for years and years now, is not one of them. This project has gone on far too long already, allowing the decaying building to become a crumbling blight, costing our hundreds of thousands a year in tax dollars while we're laying teachers, firemen and police officers off or not restaffing positions as people retire. It's time to move on.
Fiona Barrett July 11, 2012 at 10:34 PM
As an abutter I have never been given notice of any meetings public or otherwise regards 71 Greenwood Ave. otherwise I certainly would have been in attendance!
Ryan Adams July 11, 2012 at 10:50 PM
Public meetings are posted on the town website and often in the town papers (where I generally find out out about them). The days of having to go to the public posting boards at Town Hall are over, though the meetings will be posted there, too. Look, I get how hard it can be to keep oneself abreast of public meetings, even when posted online for all to (easily) see. We're all busy and have other things to do. But as any cop would say if you get pulled over, "ignorance is no excuse." It's not exactly a secret that a 40+ unit condo was being planned for the neighborhood -- these were the guidelines being crafted by townsfolk volunteers (at public meetings) since the building was decommissioned, maybe even before then. Given that this project was no secret, if it was truly that important to you, you would have been there every step of the way. You would have looked at the town's online calendars or called up members of the building committee, informing them that you want to know about any meetings and sub committees regarding the Greenwood Ave site. This isn't rocket science, just a little elbow grease. We cannot force ourselves to start over again because Greenwood Ave residents were apathetic up to the point where an actual developer put a proposal was on the table, overreacting now to a unit number that's been set in stone for years.
Fiona Barrett July 12, 2012 at 12:57 AM
I have been educating myself as to how the town makes decision's, and recently became a town meeting member to be more informed. I do not read the paper and only recently-based on resident's requests, meetings are now posted on the website. My understanding of the process is the planning board & ZBA meetings are in place as open forum for discussion from all parties about proposed plans-this is why I attended on Monday & voiced my feedback to the plans. I agree we need to be proactive & informed, I am learning-however-I never expect for plans to be "approved" without abutter's being included in the conversation! This does not seem fair conduct. Perhaps if we had been included we would not be voicing our concern's now as they would have already been addressed. I am certainly active in communicating with the town and in fact meeting with the town planner on Friday morning at the site to discuss my concerns about the entrance & safety. If you want to join us you are welcome, my intention's are to do what is best for the community and to protect our neighborhood.
Connie July 12, 2012 at 12:25 PM
I have been a direct abutter for nearly 30 years. I've been through the years of the high school, middle school, town meeting, school plays, recitals, cub scout meetings and many other public meetings next door. We have cleaned up the trash in our yard and even had to call the school to get kids to stop smoking in our driveway when it was a high school.I dare say this will happen when residents pay for these condos. When it was a middle school there were at the very least 50 staff members parking in the lot (double parked). Every morning and every afternoon EVERY car in Swampscott went up the hill TWICE a day. I don't see that 41 condos will create nearly this much traffic on a daily basis. Even if there are that many vehicles (or more), they won't all leave and return at the same time of the day. As the building has remained empty, I have looked out my windows to see abandoned vehicles, boats, boat trailers, and much to my dismay, people using the parking lot as an outdoor toilet as if no one could see them. Unfortunately, I could! The neighbors have been considered in this design and it would be a great improvement and extra revenue for the town. Yes, town residents, it is time for a change and change is difficult, but the people that don't want change (and revenue for the town) are the same people that complain about our high tax rate. Let the old, tired building go! It's time for a change!!! That's what life is about......change!
Linnea July 12, 2012 at 06:33 PM
It's true - a new project may enhance the neighborhood. But as others here point out, scale and density are the issue. This is not a simple case of Not in My Back Yard as some people seem eager to shout out; it's about what is going in and how.
Citizen Swamp July 12, 2012 at 06:50 PM
L, The project that is being proposed meets the standards set forth in the RFP as well as being the highest bid offer. I'm sure the neighbors would love to see a couple of single family homes built, but why should the rest of the community suffer for the wants of a few? CS
Fiona Barrett July 12, 2012 at 07:34 PM
I watched this short movie today as part of a course I'm studying & was inspired to share here: http://youtu.be/CMj9N5Io0ts Let's find a place of cooperation and happiness for all the projects in our beautiful town of Swampscott. Thanks for watching.
Connie July 13, 2012 at 12:29 PM
Fiona, What time on Friday morning? I think all concerned neighbors should be there. Thank you for your information!
Fiona Barrett July 13, 2012 at 01:29 PM
Hi Connie, we are meeting a 9.30am you are welcome to join as is anyone else who is interested. Thx
Sandy Jacobs July 13, 2012 at 10:20 PM
It's not so much the size of the building as the impact of 41 couples, families or even individual residents added into an already densely populated area. Traffic in our neighborhood ( i live around the corner on Rockland st, a nightmare itself) is terrible. Adding this amount of people, cars, visitors, and workers (repair people, house cleaners, cable trucks etc) for units is pure lunacy. We are a town not an urban area . Remember the phrase "an Olmsted community" not Swampscott the North Shore City. Olmsted was about green spaces something Swampscott wants to eradicate.
Ryan Adams July 13, 2012 at 10:47 PM
Sandy, there are three different directions people can take from the top of the hill on Greenwood Ave (either side of Greenwood or King St.), divided by 41 units. From there, drivers choose streets branching off in seven different directions. From there, the streets branch off in dozens of different streets, taking people basically anywhere in Swamspcott or going into Lynn, Marblehead or Salem, putting people onto streets that all ~13,500 of us use everyday and somehow manage. You are overreacting. Given that there aren't usually very many more cars than units in condo complexes like the proposed one here, the difference in traffic will be barely noticeable to the naked eye. The extra car length you may have to wait -- on occasion -- to take a turn during rush hour will be more than made up for with the fact that you'll never have to worry about being in a school zone again, in which traffic truly was a nightmare for Greenwood Ave residents.
Sandy Jacobs July 13, 2012 at 11:10 PM
Ryan,with respect for your view please realize I am not overreacting. I grew up in a bedroom community of NYC and saw first hand what increasing density this much can do to good towns. It is not 41 units or nothing (which I personally would prefer). I am a realist and hope that an alternative smaller unit plan could be done. Remember its not the size of the building but the new amount of residents. For those out there who wish for the increased revenue be aware that the cost of providing services for these new residents often exceeds their taxes paid to town. I have seen this in the towns where I previously lived.
Ryan Adams July 13, 2012 at 11:38 PM
What increasing density? We're down almost 1,000 people in town since the last census. Have no fear; 41 units isn't going to turn us into Manhattan. It won't even turn us into Brookline, which quite frankly, I think we should aspire more closely to be. "I am a realist and hope that an alternative smaller unit plan could be done." Realistically, what is knocking off 5 or 10 more units going to do, other than costing us tens of thousands of dollars a year in tax dollars? It will make no material difference to the neighborhood, beyond maybe making reticent neighbors feel a little bit better about themselves. A sense of empowerment is a wonderful thing, but I submit it will not help our town, when more tangible things are at stake. "For those out there who wish for the increased revenue be aware that the cost of providing services for these new residents often exceeds their taxes paid to town." 41 units divided by all the town's services will have almost *zero* impact on town services. It won't cost anymore to patrol the streets, staff the schools or plow the roads. I fail to see one scrap of evidence that that suddenly these condo residents will be costly residents to town.
Connie July 14, 2012 at 12:29 AM
Fiona, I did watch the video you posted. I appreciate the fact that everyone is entitled to express their opinion and hopefully, in the end, there will be an attractive, functional, safe building at the site that will make everyone (that is willing to accept change) happy. I found the video very inspiring and mind opening! Thank you.
Citizen Swamp July 14, 2012 at 02:21 AM
Do us all a favor, run for a Selectmans seat. Your clarity of thought is excellent! CS
Sandy Jacobs July 14, 2012 at 02:35 AM
Density for Greenwood /Rockland/King St. Area! Not scattered throughout the town with more open spaces. And single family houses were turned into multi family condos and apartments. YES HIGH DENSITY! You don't live here. And I have lived in Manhatten and left it in 03 for North Shore so I understand city living and rural living (NH) and suburban living (NJ and MA). What are your experiences?
Ryan Adams July 14, 2012 at 04:04 AM
Sandy, I just don't see the problem. If you want to talk density, let's talk 500-800 students going to and fro every day, and all the teachers, staff, coaches and deliveries that went with it. The proposal is a significantly reduced "density" than the old school building. This isn't even a question; it's a fact. And I don't want to hear there's only people coming and going 10 minutes, twice a day. There are parents zooming in and out every day, at all hours, picking up sick kids or dropping off forgotten books. There's deliveries coming and going all throughout the day -- never mind all the sports, town meetings, theater productions, etc., often going late into the night or early on weekend mornings. (Hello, CYA basketball.) There's a lot more people at a middle school, so a lot more activity, all throughout the day. This is not an increase in density, it's a giant reduction. I would totally be there with you if the proposal were to build a mini high rise, with upwards of 100 units, but it's not. 41 units isn't all that much in the grand scheme of things, particularly replacing such an overcrowded monstrosity. Every dimension of the new building will be smaller, and the landscaping and home-owner care will greatly enhance the character of the entire area. Mark my words -- the project will bring up property values and enhance the neighborhood. This is a win for everyone.
AA July 15, 2012 at 07:42 AM
Ryan Adams, I think I understand your frustration. Your neighborhood sacrificed a park for high school... I hope you understand, that Greenwood residents ALREADY do not have a park. They already had a school, and something requiring MORE sacrifice is going to be built. It is simple - there is just not enough space for 41 units. Also, for discussion and desision process, public posting or hearing (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, good book, recommend highly)... Abutters must be informed and were not. Citizen Swamp, Ryan Adams, I understand you are eager to see increased tax revenue. But who can guarantee that? The project will require communication tower to be moved. The increased load will likely prompt upgrading water/sewer lines, there will be new students as well. Who do you think will pay for that? Less units is smart. Citizen Swamp, Ryan Adams, please understand, there is people who think that destroying neighborhoods or demolishing buildings, that shaped Swampscot character is realy bad. Just as you said, we live in a community -may be preserving a community, not destroying it, is a better way. And Ryan, I will have to agree with Sandy here, you seem to completely miss the point of considering the neighborhood's perspective. Money may not be the only thing that matters... As to Crown Pointe and Summit - they are MUCH bigger lots and cannot be compared. And no, those dont sell that well and not for $300K...
Ryan Adams July 15, 2012 at 08:05 AM
AA -- you seriously think this project will be "more" of a sacrifice than having the old middle school in the neighborhood? Seriously? Let's go through a little thought process. Middle School - 600-800 people using it every day. Condo project? 50-100. Middle School - massive monstrosity. Condo project? Significantly smaller in foot print, height and square footage. Middle School -- causes massive traffic twice a day, including when most people are trying to get to work. Condo project? Adds infinitely fewer cars than those used by parents, teachers and staff at the old middle school, having minimal (if any) real impact on traffic. Middle School -- paved-over ugly, crumbling blight. Condo project? Brand new building with professional landscaping and upkeep. Finally, let's address some of your sillier points. "Your neighborhood sacrificed a park for high school... I hope you understand, that Greenwood residents ALREADY do not have a park." You are 2 minutes walking distance away from the ocean!!! 5 minutes away from Monument Ave! 10 minutes from Phillips! Less than that from the new(old) middle school and all its park land. Do you seriously want to suggest you don't have parks or any nice public space? "Just as you said, we live in a community -may be preserving a community, not destroying it, is a better way." Community requires growth and change. Stagnation and NIMBY = community killers. We need to move forward.
AA July 15, 2012 at 08:39 PM
Ryan Adams, if you do have a multi-unit apartment complex adjacent to your property and you prefer to live in a densely populated (urban?) environment, my points might seem silly to you. If you need to move forward, grow and change, again, my points might seem silly to you. And if you refuse to consider the other side perspective... Well, this does not seem to be a discussion, you simply keep repeating your points. Greenwood residents do not protest any development of the site. The point shared by most of them - it is too big, there is not enough space. A multitude of other alternatives are possible. Wise people do not make rush decisions. The decision to increase the number of units was hasted through the process and was done at the worst time for real estate. Today we can and should consider better solutions. And to your point of "Brookline, which quite frankly, I think we should aspire more closely to be". No, I do not aspire to be more like Brookline. If I wanted Brookline, I'd live there. I get cautious when somebody tells me what I should or should not do. Swampscott has a unique and vibrant identity despite being a relatively small community. What I see in your suggestion will erase that identity.
Citizen Swamp July 15, 2012 at 09:16 PM
AA, Once again you are advocating that the good that would benefit a community of 13,000 people should be thwarted by the wants of 20 +/- households. We need the tax revenue to do the road paving, storm drain work and other projects mentioned on this forum, not to mention the building of schools, parks, fields etc. Stop the hysteria. Your neighborhood should not be exempt from the change that has occurred or will occur on Burpee Road, Humphrey St, Burrill St., etc. Move forward, CS Note: I didn't say "Lean Forward ala MSNBC"
Ryan Adams July 15, 2012 at 09:54 PM
AA, 1. You can't argue I'm 'repeating points' when I'm a) addressing yours & b) you keep repeating your own. You say the project is too big & too dense. Well, prove it. How would it in any way be bigger or more dense than the effects of the old middle school, when the new building will be significantly smaller and have significantly fewer people using it? 2. If you're worried that condos or density will 'change the character of the town' you're coming a little late to the conversation. Swampscott has hundreds, maybe a thousand+, condo and town house units. Like it or not, condos are already very much a part of Swampscott's character. I fail to see how they've in any way hurt our community. 3. You're taking my Brookline comments out of context. Allow me to add some: Brookline has a bevy of things to do, places to go, and great public transportation and walk-able streets to get people there. Swampscott has these things built into it just like Brookline does, but we haven't fully embraced them -- and that holds us back. Beautiful parks, restaurants, a sense of community, events and businesses that bring people together are all things I want more of in Swampscott. Do any of those things sound bad to you? Yet, if we're afraid of change, NIMBY when it comes to any projects that go above & beyond single unit housing and continue to bleed population (costing us our tax base and population base for local businesses), Swampscott will continue to struggle just to get by.
brian condon July 16, 2012 at 10:53 PM
So many well reasoned arguments for and against. The final determination rests with the review boards that are in place to consider and enforce planning and zoning regulations in a very rigorous legal context. Can anyone identify the rules of the road here? What flexibility do these board enjoy? What legal tests must the project pass? As well pointed out in earlier comments, the proposal is just a proposal, not gospel, not a certainty. So what are the projected benchmarks in this consideration process,beyond these initial public hearings, that all interested parties should focus on?
Whisky July 17, 2012 at 12:05 AM
Most well reasoned arguments are those in favor. I believe the scope of what development is / will be allowed was ALREADY hashed out BEFORE this was put to bid. This isn't "Storage Wars", where the bid is a blind gamble of what will be allowed on the property.
John B Goode July 17, 2012 at 02:21 AM
The neighbors should fight this as best they can, clearly they have resolve. If we can't provide road paving, storm drain work and other projects now, this isn't even close to solving the towns problems and leaves neighborhoods around town feeling abandoned and suspicious of the various government boards and departments. The zoning for the property should be consistent with what surrounds it and the neighbors shouldn't even have to be making this fight.
Ryan Adams July 17, 2012 at 03:07 AM
@ John B Goode "If we can't provide road paving, storm drain work and other projects now, this isn't even close to solving the towns problems." $225,000+ in new property tax revenue from these condos will pay for a lot of new paved roads. That said, it should be noted that no one project or solution can fully fix the town's budget problems, but each opportunity we take can be a part of the solution.... and this is certainly one of them. No one is abandoning Greenwood Ave. The town wants to put a beautiful building on that space to replace a dilapidated, empty blight, that will help everyone in this community -- including neighbors -- in the process. I know you don't see this project as beneficial -- and that's your prerogative -- but suggesting the town is abandoning you is a step too far. I say this especially because there are going to be a lot of people in the town, both employees and not, who will make sure the developer does its due diligence and obeys all laws. There is a difference of opinion of what should be put on the site, but that's NOT abandonment. A lot of people are going to be working VERY hard to make sure this goes right -- especially for the neighbors. If you don't agree with the project, please respect that.
Citizen Swamp July 17, 2012 at 09:04 AM
Few facts about the project at the old Middle School/HS site from yesterdays Lynn Item: http://itemlive.com/articles/2012/07/16/news/news06.txt I would think the numbers would also hold true for the Paradise Project on Humphrey and the proposed Temple site project. What the future holds for the Machon property and the old Senior Center is TBD. If the Town Departments and School Department can refrain from adding headcount I would think this additional tax base could fund many improvement projects. CS
Alex July 17, 2012 at 05:14 PM
What you are saying does not look reasonable because, besides chanting "41 is too much", you and Sandy are not saying anything. 41 units is a small building and the fears that people ready to pay from $300K to $2M for an apartment will destroy your neighborhood is a little bit strange. Of course, this is a matter of taste and if the neighbors prefer to maintain present situation (there ARE people who sincerely like ruins, flooding and trash in their neighborhood) their wish is understandable.
Jason July 19, 2012 at 02:58 PM
I am all for having these vacant buildings dealt with in one form or another. I'm not 100% sure I am comfortable though, turning them all into residences. We already have Captain Jack's Inn which has been torn down and is now being turned into a large condominium building (granted, that was not a town owned property). My concern is, we already have a dense commuting situation in the mornings and evenings, effectively only having two main drags in the town (Humphrey and Paradise). Adding more (dense) residences only adds more cars and people to an already highly populated town. In building these structures we are: 1. Losing valuable, irreplaceable town space that could (in the future) be used for parks, school growth or other community projects. 2. Adding a number of potential children to a school system that we will admit has almost no where to grow should we outgrow the existing buildings. 3. Putting more cars on roads that are already crowded and increasing the need for recreational and business parking. Don't get me wrong, I am a strong supporter of local businesses and I know how hard it is trying to make a profit. Building this would obviously give Groom some money and the additional (potential) property taxes brought in may help the town that much more. But I am still not convinced that it's what is right for the town as a whole. I just think we need to look at the big picture for the community and decide if it's right.


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