Multi-family living in Melrose -- boon or bust?

... the aldermen just had to tweak the regulations a little

from Don Norris

Melrose, in spite of the fact that there's hardly a 'single' buildable lot of land
available in the city, is growing by leaps and bounds. But how can this happen? Why, it's
easy. And profitable too. Simply adjust the zoning regs (it's called "tweaking") so that
building more multi-level apartment buildings looks a lot more profitable to investors -- and
to the city.

For example, how many more dwelling units, each of which adds to our tax structure, are
now available at one of our newer housing projects -- for instance, at the Windsor at Oak
Grove, on lower Main Street. Umm, somewhere around three hundred, maybe four.

And the property tax has to be paid on each one of them, no matter who owns them. That
replaces a situation close to zero before -- zero profitability, zero taxes to the city.

Another example is the Towne Estates on Pleasant Street -- some twelve attractive apartment
buildings providing a place to live for 264 families --  was built on land that is shown on an
1850 map as being a bog. It's called land fill. And obviously that property became more
valuable as time passed. Certainly filling in the wetlands with solid dirt from someplace else
was a redeemable expense.

There are new condos or apartment buildings all over the city, and they
collectively, effectively, are keeping the tax rate from soaring.

Even so, with this boon of new construction over the past ten-or-so years, our taxes always go
up. More, it seems, than the three percent inflation factor.

Examples: The Washington School on Lebanon Street is now a multi-family building, as is
the Coolidge School, the one time high school on Main. There's a brand new condo building
opposite the Melrose Wakefield Hospital, and an extensive multi-building complex on the
railroad side of Pleasant Street called the Willows.

Another new complex in the works is Stone Place, adjacent to the old Goodyear factory on
Washington Street. This project has completed two handsome new units containing some 300
condos, located at the junction of Pleasant and Washington. Also part of the longer-range
plan is the current on-going renovation and conversion-to-living units, of the Goodyear
buildings themselves -- as well as properties for future units -- when the lawyers get done
sorting out a few legal considerations.

Aside: That building complex was originally built by the young Goodyear Rubber Company, which
had just developed the a new canvas raincoat impregnated with rubber. Goodyear sold to Converse
Rubber, who sold the property to Boston Rubber. And now the complex is being translated into
living space for perhaps some thousand more people.

There are numerous relatively new multi-family houses and apartment buildings on Sylvan
Street, opposite Pine Banks Park and Wyoming Cemetery. There are taxes paid to the city
on each of those homes.

Denise Gaffey, Director and City Planner for Melrose, told the Mirror that we'd be surprised
at the number of duplexes in town, and how many private homes have been converted to two-

Keep in mind that each new unit increases the city's tax base, although real estate taxes
have risen annually. We read recently in the Free Press that the mayor has asked the
board of aldermen to increase his salary from roughly $99,000 to $125,000. Such a raise
would be comparable to mayors in all the surrounding towns. Unions for the police and
firefighters, school teachers and public works people, keep their salaries competitive.

Not that the citizens can't complain, but  city services have been honed, shaped-up,
expanded and have made life more comfortable for all taxpayers. And Mayor Rob Dolan stressed  
at the "State of the City" meeting in January, how well things are going for the city --
in spite of recession and tough financial times. The city came through the recent
financial crisis in good order.

Another new change is happening on the eastern end of Upham Street. What used to be Lopez
Meat Market was purchased along with other adjacent land , including one bad-shape house
that was demolished -- and in place will be eleven dwelling units -- four new units in
the old Lopez wood-frame house, and the construction of three separate two-family condos.
This project should be completed by spring.

"People are moving to Melrose in droves," Ms. Gaffey said. "They want to be near public
transportation, especially near the railroad." The B&M has about four miles of track through
Melrose -- and three very convenient stations.

There two high-rise apartment buildings at the intersection of Main and Wyoming, another
at Wyoming and Pleasant Streets, another just off Franklin Square (where the old bus barn
used to be), and of course there are the three Melrose Towers near the intersection of
the Lynn Fells Parkway and Main Street.

All this building helps to maintain a reasonable tax burden on the private homeowners, at
least in theory. The resulting increase has not materially affected the size and
facilities of the police and fire departments, the Public Works or even the school
system, for the vast majority of apartment dwellers do not have school-age children.

Theoretically, Melrose residents should cheer. Except that police and firemen earn upwards
of $100,000 today, teachers have been given commensurate raises -- but then, think where
we would be without the rash of apartment-and condominium complexes have sprung up in

Somebody told the Mirror, "There will always a place in Melrose to build upon." Even if
it means tearing down City Hall?

The ultimate conversion, to the benefit of the town, has been the conversion of the 150-
year-old Universalist Church on Essex Street at Willow, adjacent to Deering Lumber
Company. The developer did not tear the building down, but instead converted it by clever
design into a 15-unit apartment complex. And the result is a beautiful resurrection of an
old church and a beautiful, attractive, useful, tax-paying home for 15 families. And when
that project is done and the people have moved in, my taxes are going to go down.
Theoretically. In the meantime, church members will have to go over to the Unitarian-
Universalist Church on Essex Street. It's only four or five blocks away.

At last we have the Mark Carrol program on familiar territory -- remember the Lopez Meat Market
over the hill, on Upham Street? Mr. Carrol bought it, refurbished the store/homestead to
contain four new apartments, left standing a small white home that nobody can see from the
street, then built (is building) three brand new double two-story homes -- all of which will
now bring in eleven tax payments quarterly. Ah, I feel better already.

By the way, Mr. Carrol is the fellow (Ms Gaffey tells us) who is responsible for the amazing
renovation of the old Ruderman corner, at Main and Essex.

February 1, 2013

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