... "The Mills" incorporated in city's "Smart Growth"
It appears that Melrose will have its cake and eat it too -- if one considers the century old mill buildings on Washington Street a city treasure. Historians should stand up and cheer.
All eight properties of that aging but stately 125-year-old complex are in the process of being sold by individual owners -- to one developer who plans to put all those pieces back together again. The end result will be a stately group of historical buildings containing approximately 280 apartments (possibly condos, depending on the rather shakey real estate market).
The point is that those old buildings will remain in tact, to be renovated for sure -- but certainly not destroyed. Chalk on up for posterity. The mill buildings, according to Mayor Rob Dolan, will remain just about as we see them today -- on the outside. Inside will be modern apartments.
"That's really the best good news I can give you today," the mayor told the Mirror. "I can't tell you the developer's name at this stage, but I can tell you that he is experienced in restoring historical buildings, giving new life to ornate old buildings -- rather than knocking them down."
The complex has been divided over the years and has been in the hands of eight different owners. All principals apparently have accepted a price from the new developer, and most of the tenants have already moved out, the mayor said.
"The developer is very well experienced in renovating and resurrecting historical properties," Mayor Dolan said. "He has the experience of several such projects in New England; furthermore, we are happy to be dealing with a company that is financially stable and has a proven track record."
"While the project hasn't been presented to the planning board yet," he said, "everybody seems to be very enthusiastic with the project." He added that we may see early construction begin later this year, and that the project may be completed by late next year, certainly by early 2010."
Mayor Dolan stressed that the trend in municipal development today is to put new housing adjacent to existing transportation. He pointed to the Oak Grove development on south Main Street, adjacent to the old rubber shoe factories. Both are within walking distance to the Oak Grove subway station.
"It's called 'smart growth'", he said.
The developer has completed similar restoration housing projects in Boston's North End, another in the South End, and a third in Charlestown. He transformed numerous old factory buildings into attractive living units, Mayor Dolan explained.
"In our case," he continued, "this will provide a much improved entryway to Melrose, along an improved, attractive Washington Street." That local area has always been zoned for industry, which has tied the hands of area property owners and hindered development.
That zoning problem was overcome when the board of aldermen recently changed the laws, permitting both industry and residential development in that southwest corner of the city.
The developer's plans, still under study, will be submitted to the planning board "in the near future", the mayor said, and it is possible, if all goes well, that construction could begin this fall.
May 2, 2008