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Developer to build market-rate apartments on Boston Road

Date: 4/17/2015

SPRINGFIELD – Long dormant and neglected, a parcel of land located on one of the City of Homes’ major corridors will see new life this year.

Nick Graham, the current owner of the property, unveiled to local residents at the Pine Point Community Council meeting on April 15 plans to build a market-rate rental housing development at 461 Boston Road, the former site of Russell’s Restaurant and Ice Cream House.

Graham, a Springfield native, explained he hoped to construct townhouse-style dwellings with modern, open floor plans on the first floor, two bedrooms on the second with the intent of attracting young professionals. He estimated rent at approximately $1,300 to $1,400, including utilities.

“There’s nothing like this in Springfield,” he said. “There haven’t been any new apartments built in Springfield in 20 years.”

Russell’s Restaurant closed in 2005, and since then, the property has been largely unused for a decade. The building was demolished, leaving only an empty parking lot upon which a hot dog stand operates daily. Robert Russell, a Wilbraham selectman and former owner of Russell’s, attempted to sell the land to Cumberland Farms, which planned to expand its gas station and store, but the City Council blocked the sale.

Russell partially blamed the derailing of that deal for his 2011 bankruptcy filing, which became a controversial topic during unsuccessful his 2014 run for 12th Hampden District against state Rep. Angelo Puppolo Jr.

Graham appeared at the meeting seeking support from the council to pursue a zoning change from Business A to Residential C in order to build 16 units; however, after an extensive question and answer session, the council voted not to recommend the change.

Under the current bylaws, Council President Kimbery Dinoia and Graham explained, Graham is permitted to build up to 14 units without a zoning change.

“In a business zone, you are allowed 16 [units] per acre. This site is about 0.9 acres,” Graham said.

On April 18, Graham told Reminder Publications he decided to withdraw the zoning change request and would proceed with 14 units.

Graham said residents should expect to see the beginning stages of construction, such as the removal of the existing asphalt and site preparation, soon.

"May 6 will be the final site plan review in front of the Planning Board, but I am hopingto start work at the site as early as late next week," he said.

Once the side work is completed, the project should then proceed with rapidity.

“The one difference is these units are going to be built modularly and not on site, meaning the total timeline will be about four months as opposed to the six to eight months a normal project would take,” he said.

the-melrose.jpgBecause the apartment units are modular units by Avalon Building Solutions of Stoughton, they will be built off site in facilities located in either Maine or Pennsylvania as the site is prepared, then transported in and erected. The site would be finished by September, Graham said.

Several “Melrose” style buildings, measuring 2,140 in total square footage –1,070 per unit – will face Boston Road with a small grass buffer and individual stairs and concrete walks leading to the sidewalk.

brighton.jpgBrighton” style buildings, measuring 2,200 in total square footage – 1,100 per unit – will be set back from the road.

A 38-space parking lot will feature a sole vehicle entry off of Fargo Street, across from the parking lot for the Smiley’s Handy Variety plaza.

Several in attendance at the meeting, including council member Rose Turner and former City Councilor John Lysak expressed concern with additional traffic at the intersection of Boston Road and Fargo Street, pointing out the narrowness of Fargo, motorists’ the high rate of speed in the area, and danger to pedestrians.

Graham said he “would be all for” helping residents appeal to the city for solutions to these existing problems.

Concerns regarding whether 38 parking spaces would be adequate were also raised.

Graham said the units would be strictly rentals and could not be purchased individually like condominiums, as each did not have its own water, sewer and natural gas hook ups.

When asked if Section 8 housing would be accepted or if he had considered making the property an adult-only or senior facility, he said he did not have plans for either.

“There is a need in this city for housing for young professionals,” he said.

Father William Pomerleau, pastor of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish, located just southwest of the property, said he supported the idea of offering a “starter home environment for “moderate income people” in the area.

“Springfield needs housing. We lost 700 units to the tornado and almost none have been rebuilt,” he said. “This is a local person who is presenting a positive use for land that isn’t being used at all right now.”