CHELMSFORD — During a joint Select Board and Planning Board meeting Thursday night, representatives from Trammell Crow Residential shared the first look at plans for redevelopment of the former UMass Lowell West Campus at 255 Princeton St.
As of now, the plan presented contains 394 units: about 54 one-bedroom units would be age-restricted (62-plus) affordable three-story housing with elevators, 10 units would be townhomes, 48 units would be three-story walk-up apartments, and two buildings containing 282 apartments would be four-story elevator buildings.
All units would have washing machines and dryers, and some would have private entries and/or balconies. In total, there would be an estimated 20 studios, 218 one-bedroom apartments, 131 two-bedroom apartments and 25 three-bedroom apartments. Thirteen percent of the units would be affordable.
The site would also contain amenities such as a clubhouse, “resort-style pool,” pet area and an outdoor lounge with grilling station. The site would also have its own sewer system.
During the presentation, Andy Huntoon, of Trammell Crow, showed examples of other properties he’s worked on in the area, including developments in BIllerica and Wrentham. “It’s not just the unit that someone lives in, we’re trying to build homes and build communities where people can feel like they’re part of the neighborhood on the site,” he said, describing the Billerica community. “We put a lot of community space in: big clubhouses, pool tables, fitness centers, WiFi areas, work-from-home business lounges with computers, and a lot of places for people to sit.”
He also showed pictures of those units, which he described as “stone countertops, hardwood flooring, a lot of lighting, you know, kind of a big, open area.”
Dave Hedison, executive director of the Chelmsford Housing Authority, then spoke to the history of the land. “We’ve been looking at the site for over 20 years for development of housing, and it really is a special place,” he said, adding that the buildings that used to house UMass Lowell’s graduate school of education have already been demolished.
Hedison said the site also used to house a Department of Youth Services program site. He said he has spoken with “four or five” developers about how to best utilize the space. He said he loves this proposal because of the green space that would remain on the site.
“It’s in our current housing plan that this site should be looked at for housing,” he said. “And for me, I always say if we can make a project in the area that the town has chosen (work), I’ll always do my best to find a project.”
Huntoon then walked the group through the various unit types, explaining that “we really wanted to build a variety of different housing that was going to meet a variety of different needs.”
The 282 units in the four-story buildings, for example, would have slightly lower-end finishes than some of the other units, such as plastic tubs and showers instead of tiled ones, to save on building costs and allow the buildings to rent at a lower price point.
For the 54-unit affordable age-restricted housing, Hedison said that even though the building would contain all affordable units at three different levels, some priced at 30% or less of the area median income, they would still have amenities like granite countertops and tile floors.
He added that he’s looking to leverage the town’s inclusionary funding to access up to $15 million in state and federal tax credits for the project. State law allows up to 70% of the units to be designated as a preference for Chelmsford residents or workers.
Deirdre Connelly, who was newly elected to the Planning Board last month, asked whether the outdoor amenities, such as proposed walking trails around the property, would be available to non-residents of the development, which the developers said they were open to considering.
She also asked what the “ballpark” prices may be for the units as of now. Huntoon estimated that studios would rent for around $1,700, one bedrooms just over that, two bedrooms would rent for low-to-mid $2,000s, and three bedrooms would go for high $2,000s.
Connelly then asked Hedison how big a dent 54 age-restricted units would make on the area’s population waiting for these units, and he said “it would make a significant impact.”
Nancy Araway, also on the Planning Board, said she foresaw neighbors’ concerns about multiple four-story buildings in their backyards. Huntoon said his group had already sent a letter to abutters with introductions and contact information. He added that the design maintains as much vegetation as possible and pulls the buildings away from the property’s borders.
Select Board member Virginia Crocker Timmins asked whether the developer foresaw a large number of families with children moving into these units. Huntoon said that although he sees it as a “multigenerational campus,” he sees these units working better for seniors, empty nesters and working professionals. Past developments, he said “were not teeming with kids.”
Community Development Director Evan Belansky called the high percentage of one-bedroom apartments “a fantastic start” to the project to both minimize impacts on Chelmsford’s traffic, schools and infrastructure and meet a housing need in the community. Town Manager Paul Cohen wondered whether the entire development should be age-restricted, an idea that he said has been floated before for that area.
The group took a straw poll at the end of the discussion to gauge interest, and all Select Board and Planning Board members said they’d like to hear more about the project, though some said they’d like to see a higher percentage of affordable units.