WORCESTER – The Planning Council on Wednesday approved a site plan for a 13-storey mixed-use development in the Canal District.
Council and some residents had concerns about the size and scale of the proposed project, but overall members were happy with the approach to housing density and attention to detail in d other areas of design and architecture.
Gold Block Real Estate LLC seeks to demolish existing buildings – with demolition beginning earlier Wednesday – and build a 13-story, 380,580-square-foot mixed-use building, with 318 “residential units,” approximately 29,000 square feet of retail or restaurant space, and 152-space parking .
Retail and office space on the building’s first two floors is expected to include a candle-lit bowling alley as well as “360 degrees” of retail and dining space around the development, the director of Gold Block, Thomas Keane, to the Planning Board.
The proposed development is along Green Street. It will essentially replace the block between Plymouth and Gold streets and will overlook Polar Park.
Stephen Rolle, deputy director of city development, said the car park includes six disabled parking spaces and four electric vehicle charging stations, with capacity to expand as demand increases.
Rolle said the development will include a large locked bicycle storage room for more than 100 bikes and replicate bicycle parking spaces along the streetscape. He said the building will incorporate green roofs to absorb stormwater runoff and will feature outdoor amenities on the third and 10th floors.
Rolle said access to the parking lot would be from Gold Street and the building would be set back from the street to allow for wider sidewalks.
Rolle said the proposed building is about 163 feet tall, which is similar to other downtown buildings in that zoning district. The Bancroft on Franklin Street, he pointed out, is about 140 feet tall.
The project’s architect, Joseph Stromer, said the main objective of the project was to meet the demand for housing in the area. He said the development creates a “real opportunity for live work” and strengthens the city’s urban core. He said it is conveniently located near bus routes and a short walk to Union Station. It is pedestrian and transit-oriented, Stromer said.
Stromer said the idea for the design was to visually divide the large building into three smaller buildings to give pedestrians a sense that it fit into the scale of the neighborhood.
But a few residents who called, as well as a few council members, expressed concerns about the size.
Resident Nathan Sabo said his primary concern is that the 13-story building, along with other planned developments along the Green Street corridor, will effectively isolate Polar Park from the rest of the Canal District.
“It would hardly be visible,” Sabo said.
Sabo said he also had concerns about the construction and staging and its impact on the neighborhood, and said there was no outreach to residents about the project prior to Wednesday’s meeting.
In written evidence submitted to the Planning Board, Julie Dowen of the Worcester Heritage Society strongly opposed the site plan as presented. She wrote that while the former building at Sir Morgan’s Cove was not on the state’s official register of historic buildings, its heritage and significance in Worcester’s history should not and cannot be ignored.
“The WHS urges the Worcester Planning Board and the developers of this hugely expansive project to recognize its historic value, other than taking its name, ironically, and to find a significant role in the preservation of the building and its integration into the design, notwithstanding the fact that the design as it is out of step with the character of the neighborhood and would tower over all other structures on Green Street,” Dowen wrote.
Allen Fletcher, a Canal District resident and business owner, wrote to the board that while he liked the mixed-use approach, he thought the building was too big and thought there should be enough of parking spaces included to cover all units.
Council members said they understood the public’s concerns about the size and scale of the project, but council chairman Albert LaValley noted that in the zoning district where the proposed project is located, nothing limits the size or height of the building.
Members expressed satisfaction with the green roofs, bicycle parking and electric vehicle charging stations. Board member Ellie Gilmore said she was actually pleased to see a less than one-to-one ratio of parking spaces to people. She said she actually would have liked to see less vehicle parking.
“If we’re trying to create a dense, walkable neighborhood, having personal vehicles hurts that,” Gilmore said.
Gilmore said she was disappointed to hear residents report a lack of public engagement.
Board member Edward Moynihan made a commitment to the developers that the renders would not change significantly throughout the life of the project. Board member Paul DePalo said he thinks the scale of the project is big and should be the way the city should think about creating density in neighborhoods like the Canal District. He said he recognizes that any project can have negative consequences, but he thinks this proposal would be great for the city.
Four of the properties that are part of the new plan that was presented to the Planning Board on Wednesday were part of a deal that allowed the city to offload properties it had taken through eminent domain as part of the construction project from Polar Park. The properties at 85 Green St., 2 Plymouth St., 5 Gold St., and 7 Gold St. were ultimately not needed as part of the ballpark. The city, through the Worcester Redevelopment Authority, reached an agreement to sell the properties to Churchill James for $3 million – the amount the city paid.
According to the Secretary of State’s Corporate Database, Gold Block is managed by Harry DiLeo, Keane and Christopher Archambault. Keane and DiLeo also manage Churchill James.
The proceeds were allocated to an initial reserve fund to repay stadium project obligations.
Due to its proximity to the ballpark, the new project, if approved and constructed, will be included in the District Improvement Funding Area created to fund construction of the ballpark. The additional increase in tax revenue generated from private development in the neighborhood will be used to cover debt service on the bonds sold to fund construction of the 10,000-seat ballpark.
• The Planning Board also approved its first special permit for an independent adult marijuana testing lab on Wednesday.
The council on Wednesday approved the special permit for the facility at 41 Fremont St. and approved a parking plan across the street at 32 Delaware St. for Legacy Foundation Group. No marijuana will be sold or grown on site; it will serve as a test facility for other retailers to ensure quality control, Legacy’s Tye Thaden told the board.