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With revised condo plan, former Danvers State site taking shape

Posted by Kerry Drohan  June 8, 2010 04:38 PM

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It has had to endure a fire and a poor economy, but the long-awaited redevelopment of the former Danvers State Hospital site is gradually taking shape.

Avalon Bay Communities, the master developer of the site, completed work on a 433-unit   apartment complex in July 2008, and according to the company, the units - 15 percent of them affordable - have been nearly fully occupied since.

Progress has been slower on the development of an adjacent 55-and-over condominium. Due to the down real estate market, Avalon and its partner in the condo project, OHC Development, has to date sold only 19 of the 64 units originally planned, according to Scott Dale, Boston regional vice president of development for Virginia-based Avalon.

But Dale said he is optimistic sales of the condominium units - which are being built as they sell - will pick up due to a revision to the condo plan recently approved by the Planning Board.

The original plan called for 52 town house units and 12 smaller flats. But Dale said the smaller units are in greater demand than the townhouses. The approved change allows for a shift toward more of the smaller units, with an overall increase of seven units.

Avalon in 2005 purchased from the state the approximately 51-acre hilltop site encompassing its apartment and condo developments, along with about 17.2 acres on the lowland section of the former hospital site, which is southwest of the intersection of Route 62 and I95.  

The state in 1991 shuttered the then 113-year-old mental hospital. Danvers in 2005 adopted zoning rules governing the redevelopment, which will not impact existing agricultural fields that comprised a portion of the 500-acre site.

Even as the hilltop development has proceeded, the company has also worked on re-use of its lowland property.

In 2007, Beverly Hospital opened a new medical and day surgery center on an 8.2 acre site its parent company, Northeast Health System acquired from Avalon. And Dale said Avalon has an agreement to sell its remaining nine acres of lowland property to a company that plans to locate a skilled nursing facility on the site.

The slow real estate market is not the only obstacle the development has faced. In 2007, a fire destroyed several of the apartment buildings then under construction and caused minor damage to the portion of the Kirkbride building, the Gothic-style former hospital structure that is being incorporated into the project. But Dale called the fire a "temporary setback" that delayed construction for four or five months.

Despite the slow pace of the condo sales, Dale said of the overall development, "We feel this has been tremendously successful for the company, and hopefully for the town and the others involved."

Town manager Wayne P. Marquis said the town is pleased with the development.

"We have new residents of the community - a new neighborhood," he said. "We have open space preserved. We have affordable housing units....We have tax revenue, and some commercial use of the lowlands, which are consistent with our interest in having a health care presence (on the site). So it’s a good outcome from our perspective."

According to chief assessor Marlene Locke, the development has generated nearly $2 million   in new property tax revenue to date.

Avalon also gave the town $2.35 million to mitigate project impacts, including monies for the schools, affordable housing, historic preservation, and athletic fields.

The development has increased enrollment to the public schools by about 100 students. But School Supt. Lisa Dana said the district has been able to absorb the impact on the elementary schools without adding new classrooms by splitting students among two schools, the Highlands and the Great Oak.  

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