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Temple, housing permits approved

Affordable units to be built on site

By John Laidler
Globe Correspondent / April 19, 2012
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A plan to develop 40 senior apartments and a new temple in Winthrop is picking up steam after being awarded its final local permit.

Temple Tifereth Israel, the Chelsea Jewish Foundation, and Affirmative Investments are partnering in the $11 million project, which the groups say will enable the temple to meet its building and financial needs and generate much-needed low-cost housing for area seniors. Thirty seven of the 40 apartments will be rented at affordable rates.

On April 11, the proposed 62-and-over project cleared its final regulatory hurdle when it received approval from the Conservation Commission. The action followed recent approvals by the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Planning Board, and the Town’s Council’s adoption last September of a zoning measure needed for the project.

“We are very excited,’’ Adam Berman, chief operating officer of the Chelsea Jewish Foundation, said of the project.

The plan calls for demolishing the current 49-year-old temple building at 93 Veterans Road, and constructing on the site a new, smaller temple and a four-story building to house the apartments.

The temple would maintain ownership of the overall site, but lease a portion of it to a new corporation that the foundation and Affirmative Investments would jointly create to develop the apartments. The housing would be managed by the foundation, which owns and operates nursing care and assisted living facilities in Chelsea.

Future residents would have access as needed to support services provided by the foundation’s home and personal care agencies, and potentially by other organizations.

To go forward, the project still needs to secure an award by the state of federal low-income housing tax credits, a key part of the financing package. The developers expect to hear as early as next month if they have been awarded credits in the current funding round, according to Tara Mizrahi, vice president of Affirmative Investments, a Boson-based development and finance firm that specializes in working with nonprofits.

“We feel very strongly about our chances of securing the tax credits,’’ Mizrahi said. She cited the town’s support for the project and the $500,000 awarded to the project by the North Suburban HOME Consortium, a group of eight communities that dispenses federal HOME funds for affordable housing projects.

If the tax credits are awarded this round, the project could begin by the end of the year. If they aren’t, the groups must wait another six months for the next funding round, said Mizrahi.

Founded nearly a century ago, Temple Tifereth Israel has recently struggled financially, due in part to a decline in membership - presently 80 to 85 families - and the costs associated with maintaining its large, aging facility, according to the temple’s president, Sandra Pellegrino. “It’s a very big building; just to heat it, we have a gas bill of about $1,500 a month,’’ she said.

Pellegrino said the temple has not had the funds needed to tackle the building’s larger deficiencies, such as replacing roof and windows.

About three years ago, the foundation approached the temple about leasing space in its building for an adult day care center. Berman said it quickly became apparent in the discussions that the arrangement, while offering the temple some needed revenue, would not solve the congregation’s long-term financial and facility issues.

“We proposed to them a slightly radical idea of shifting our approach,’’ he said, “to come up with something that would allow them to have a synagogue well into the future’’ while also sharing their site with a facility that “as a spiritual community they would feel comfortable supporting.’’

The foundation enlisted Affirmative Investments to partner on the project, having previously worked with the Boston firm on the development of its 100-bed Leonard Florence Center for Living, which opened in Chelsea in 2010.

Under the plan for the Winthrop site, the corporation developing the housing would make its lease payment to the temple in an upfront, lump sum, providing the temple with the funds to erect its new building. Pellegrino said that having a smaller, more efficient building will allow the temple to significantly cut costs, easing its financial crunch.

“It’s one of those rare win-win-win scenarios,’’ Berman said. “The temple gets a new synagogue and a modern facility. We obviously are going to get housing and to continue our nonprofit mission. And from the town’s perspective, they see some revitalization . . . in an area where they would like to see it.’’

Peter Lombardi, Winthrop’s grants administrator, said the town welcomes the project.

“This allows the temple to have a place that works for them and is easier to maintain,’’ he said. Referring to the foundation, he said the project also brings to town an organization familiar to many Winthrop residents. “They have a demonstrated track record and a great reputation.

“Our population is aging,’’ he added. “A lot of people are proud of having been born and raised in Winthrop, and this project gives them the opportunity to stay here in town.’’

Beyond those benefits, Town Manager James McKenna noted that the development would enhance the appearance of the site, complementing projects the town is planning to revitalize that area, including construction of a harbor walk and improvements to nearby Daw Park.

The project would also generate $30,000 to $35,000 in new annual tax revenues for the town from the apartment building, according to Mizrahi. And Lombardi said the project calls for drainage improvements that will ease flooding in that area.

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