Small-but perhaps significant-progress was made on Wednesday night at a meeting of the Cerundolo/Tambone Investment Group team and residents of the surrounding Loomis Street neighborhood, although the frank conversation was often heated.
54 Loomis Street building owners, David and Debbie Cerundolo, and the Tambone Investment Group convened what Cerundolo termed"an informal, informational exchange"with the goal of working toward a mutually satisfactory building design. The meeting was arranged to address concerns that came to light at a tempestuous mid- July Planning Board public hearing during which the 54 Loomis redevelopment design was first unveiled. At that time, neighbors strenuously objected to the proposed conversion of the commercial property into a three story apartment complex.
According to schematic drawings and specifications by the redevelopment team, the design differences between the original and the revised plans include an increase in first floor retail space from 1,000 to 3,000 sq. ft.; an increase in glass frontage both on Loomis Street and along the side of the building to enhance visibility of the retail units; a drop in roof height for a middle section of the building; a reduction in the number of residential units; and a decrease in the number of two-bedroom units.
"The overall height, massing and architectural design of the building has been revised in a manner to address many of the comments that were voiced [at the July meeting,]" said Mark Vaughan of Riemer and Braunstein, attorneys for the project. "It meets all dimensional criteria for the bylaw. It complies with the height and the open space [requirements] and everything else."
But pointing to the schematic renderings,a majority of neighbors deemed them "unchanged in principle," saying that the proposal still did not fit with Bedford or with the Loomis Street neighborhood. "We want something that's integrated into our neighborhood," one resident stated.
Saying they'd rather see condominiums than rental apartments, several residents entreated Cerundolo to reconsider the apartment building complex concept. "We own our houses," said one angry neighbor. "If you were trying to sell us on something-that people were buying into our community-that would be one thing. But you're trying to sell us on people coming in and renting in our community and coming and going. You're not going to sell it to us that way. You missed the mark, again....I've lived in apartment complexes and you don't know who you're going to get [living there with you]."
Cerundolo emphasized that at the anticipated monthly rent ($2,000 for two-bedroom and $1,500 to $1,600 for one-bedroom apartments), renters are not likely to be troublemakers.
Business partner Richard Tambone added that the team had considered condos, but their market research showed that there is less demand for condos and more demand for quality apartments. "In today's market, it's hard to get financing because the banks' research says there aren't enough potential buyers for condos."
Tambone continued, "What I think I'm hearing tonight is that a number of individuals are concerned about the apartments.... If you had a mixed use project with retail and condos and apartments, what would your overall position on that?"
"If we could find something that is part of our neighborhood, we'd be happy with that," one of the neighbors responded.
However, another resident added, "I understand you own the building and you want to turn a profit, but this is our neighborhood, our community. We live there, our pediatrician's office is there.... When you have someone buy into the community, you have a better-quality person who plans to stay for a longer period of time. There's no argument to that. You're not going to bully us, bringing in lawyers and stuff and drive this down our throats. Whether you build it or not, we're going to fight it to the end."
Residents also complained that the new building's height is excessive, even with some revisions to the roof design in the original sketches. A suggestion was floated that the whole third floor be eliminated.
"[If we do that,] there's no profit," replied Tambone.
Residents replied that if the group could accept a longer period for a return on their investment, the profit would eventually be there. The redevelopment team countered that the bank from which the financing comes dictates the standards of the repayment schedule.
Depot Park Advisory Committee member and former Selectman Joe Piantedosi rose to voice his concerns about additional school age children that come along with any residential increase.
"We were told that Avalon Bay was going to add no more than six or seven children. In reality, there are over 26 there.... Taylor Pond has 23. This is a big concern. Our schools are almost at 92% capacity. Some of the schools are higher. I worry about one more apartment building coming in and forcing more school additions." According to the developers, three or four school age children are expected in a development the size of 54 Loomis, but Piantedosi disputes that number, saying the other apartment developments underestimated this particular impact.
To avoid the problem, he asked if the new building could be all retail or commercial. "It helps our tax base," he explained.
The development team responded that it's chancy to even include the currently proposed 3,000 sq.ft.of retail space. "[Loomis Street] is not a well-established retail corridor today. It is a big risk in terms of our ability to attract [retail] tenants. In addition, there's a visibility issue if you add retail to encompass the entire first floor. Retailers look for high visibility and Loomis Street, although well-traveled, is not as well-traveled as Great Road. And the retail would sit fairly far off the street. We want to maximize the retail,but at the same time we need to make sure it's successful....It could be feasible to add maybe another 1,000 sq. feet."
To the question of whether the team had considered targeting the 55+ residential population, Tambone replied that statistically 55+ developments don't always worked out as planned; many have reverted to the general, multi-age market. "Typically, a 55+ community has a number of different amenities. They have restaurant facilities, recreational areas.This size project doesn't accommodate that type of use."
In reply, one resident said, "In theory, I think people could get behind a larger 55+ project [in the Loomis/DeAngelo Drive] area. If it was all being developed from one central idea, you'd make a killing and everyone would accept that.... That would be a good fit and a home run for you guys."
"Partnering with the Depot Park could create something [for the new breed of active 55+] lifestyle. We all want that," added another neighbor.
Cerundolo replied, "We only own the one parcel. The overlay district is not that large. It only includes one property to our right-1 DeAngelo Drive-and a couple of properties to the left down to the depot. It doesn't go up Loomis Street, it doesn't back along DeAngelo Drive. It's not a large area.... So all of the warehouses on DeAngelo Drive are not in the overlay district and the type of development we're proposing cannot happen there.... Not unless the Planning Board changes [the reach of the overlay district.]"
"The overlay district wording was written to be flexible," added Attorney Vaughan. "It is up to [the] Planning Board to decide each individual case. Even though we fulfilled the criteria, they can still deny us."
"You are in a difficult position because you are the first," added a resident. "You have a great opportunity to set the tone on what 'the village' is. And you're hearing us. So let's create something in that spirit. Aside from the fašade of [the proposed building], it's not a village. If you look at all our homes, if you walk down Hartford Street, and we're all 1900's [style] and it doesn't look like [the proposed building.].... We want some place where we can go and we can gather and we can have community."
John Peterson, a current member of the Depot Park Advisory Committee, spoke as a former Planning Board member. "I have a suggestion.... It can be done as a mix of retail, condo and apartments. You could build condos and sell them as the market will allow or rent [them] as supported.... I also want to share some history.... The Blake Block conversion started 30 years ago.... Be careful. Work with them to make it happen now because you don't know where it will be 30 years from now or 6 months from now, or 10years from now. You need to work with the developers so the developer doesn't go bankrupt in the process and you wind up worse than you were in the first place. If you work collectively as a team, instead of antagonistically, you'll get more accomplished. Give them advice, give them options-or help them see options-to work it out."
Another meeting between the development team and the neighborhood is planned (date to be determined) before the project again comes before the Planning Board.