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Downtown progress: slowly but surely

Downtown progress: slowly but surely

The waiting for mixed-use projects is almost over

MAIN STREET JOURNAL – When it comes to proposals for new, mixed-use developments in the Downtown District, there has been much waiting and little visible action. Nevertheless, city officials are quietly expressing optimism that three current proposals will eventually become reality despite setbacks with two earlier projects.

Four years ago, former Fish Restaurant owner George Voyiatzis proposed Atrium Place, four floors of ten units each on top of the current single-floor retail building. The timeline for that plan was pushed out several times and that project is now dead in the water.

However, across the street, Marilyn Green has been working on a project that is creeping closer to fruition. Green has been a successful realtor since 1972 and has been housed at her current location for nineteen years.

She is co-owner of ReMax Signature Properties at 28 South Bolton Street.  The business is a family affair as Green is joined by her brother and co-owner, Rich Anzalone, along with daughter, Jennifer Green Thompson, and daughter in law, Penny Green.

The original vision for her site was twelve unique apartments with underground parking. However, the scope has expanded significantly and the current plan now calls for a total of four residential floors, totaling thirty-two two-bedroom units and four one-bedroom units, above 1,375 square feet of retail space.

The project is currently under review by the City Council’s Urban Affairs Committee. A timeline for groundbreaking and project completion was not available for this report.

Just around the corner at 57 Main Street a new proposal is in the works to replace the John Rowe Funeral Home next to Union Common. The development, named Tavern on the Green, would include five floors and 86,000 square feet of space.

The building will include basement and ground level parking, 11,400 square feet of ground floor office/retail/restaurant space and fifty-five residential units on four floors above.  Seventeen one-bedroom units and thirty-eight two bedroom units are planned.

The project, as currently proposed, includes a total of eighty-three parking spaces in a lower level garage as well as surface parking at the rear of the building.

Developer Mark O’Hagan has been in the real estate business since 1989, though the focus up until now has been primarily in building single-family homes and constructing Chapter 40B affordable housing projects. He has worked in more than twenty communities in suburban Boston and is responsible for the creation of more than seven-hundred homes.

The Tavern on the Green represents a departure from O’Hagan’s other work. He told the Main Street Journal that he has been interested in doing a mixed-use project for a long time and the 57 Main Street site was particularly appealing in light of zoning changes and other initiatives that are intended to bring new housing and a wide variety of amenities to the Downtown District.

Speaking about the planned design, he said, “This is the type of housing I would be inclined to move into when the kids are older.”

O’Hagan has been working with various city officials since the spring and he currently has a permit request before the City Council’s Urban Affairs Committee. Assuming the review process runs smoothly, he is hoping to begin work sometime next spring or summer. After that, he estimated a construction timeline of fifteen to eighteen months.

“The city has been very supportive,” said O’Hagan, adding, “It is nice to be working on a project the city has identified as a need.”

O’Hagan also had praise for the assistance provided by Marl­borough Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), in particular Executive Director Meredith Harris. “I cannot say enough about Meredith,” commented O’Hagan, “She is fantastic and has been a great help.”

As it turns out, MEDC played a critical role in Marilyn Green’s project as well. The idea of building upwards had never crossed her mind until former MEDC Executive Director Tim Cummings visited one day and inquired about her plans for the future.

Reflecting back on her first meeting with Cummings, Green said, “I started to laugh. I thought he was delusional.” But as she began to think about the vision of downtown that Cummings shared with her, Green began to imagine the possibilities.

“Tim got me excited about what Marlborough could become,” she said. “With all the new companies coming to the area, we need to give those employees what Marlborough has been lacking.”

Specifically, Green is embracing the vision of an urban downtown as a nice place to live and work, with a wide variety of amenities to enjoy. The belief is that high end mixed-use developments will lead to an improved collection of retail businesses.

O’Hagan expressed similar optimism about the future of the district.

Westward from the planned Tavern on the Green site, there is another parcel that has attracted attention for a similar development. Two years ago, New York City-based Wellbuilt Company proposed a six-floor mixed-use building for 163-175 Main Street.

The planned development would have filled the vacant parcel that has been used as a pocket park and extend westward to include additional floors above the former People’s United Bank building, and eastward by replacing the single floor building at 163 Main Street.

Wellbuilt eventually backed out of the project but a new developer, Enza Sambataro, has come forward with a new plan for the same site. According to Attorney Brian Falk, the new proposal calls for three retail units at ground level, up to thirty-five ground level parking spaces, five floors with a total of up to seventy residential units, and a roof deck.

This project is also being reviewed by the Urban Affairs Committee. Sambataro did not respond to an inquiry seeking a timeline and further details.

All three of the proposed new developments were made possible thanks to downtown zoning changes that were approved by the City Council almost  four years ago. The resulting new mixed-use Marlborough Village District created a number of major changes to the city’s zoning ordinance, including redefining allowable uses for new developments, relaxing parking requirements for new businesses, and revising design standards for new buildings.

Approval by the council was realized after more than a year of preparation that was led by MEDC. Working in collaboration with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) and members of the Marlborough City Council, local residents and business leaders, a vision for downtown was conceived, then zoning changes were adopted to help the vision become reality.

Among the most notable features of the new zoning is the introduction of new building uses, including bed and breakfasts, brewpubs, music recording studios, and residential projects. The new regulations will also encourage businesses to create pedestrian-friendly amenities, like outdoor seating, patios, porches and courtyards.

While the new zoning has helped to attract developers, the planned new residential buildings could, in turn, attract new types of retail businesses that will make the district a more attractive place to live, work and visit.

With two brewpubs scheduled to open downtown in the coming weeks and a Museum in the Streets in the planning stages for next year, change is certainly coming to the Downtown District, even if it might be coming a little slower than some have hoped.

This article by Jim Ash originally appeared here.

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