Planning Board Supports 37 Unit Residential Conversion on Southside

A rendering of the proposed 37-unit residential property at 101-103 Morse St.

The proposed conversion of a historic building into a 37-unit apartment complex took a step toward final approval Wednesday night by gaining the support of the Planning Board.

The property at 101-103 Morse Street used to be the Cortiva Massage School, but has not been used in several years. A previous owner tried twice unsuccessfully to get approval for a residential conversion — first with 46 units and then with 36.

Mouhab Rizkallah of Lacourt Affordable Trust LLC presented the new plan, which he said has some significant differences from the previous ones.

“This is truly a better and more compelling plan,” Rizkallah said, adding that the quality of the work would be “far superior.”

The extra unit means that there will be an additional affordable-rate unit, for a total of six. There will also be four handicap accessible units.

Rizkallah said he wants to preserve and even showcase the historic characteristics of the building, part of which date back to 1871. Plans call for some plaques to be placed on the site which highlight the history of the site, as well as displays inside with more information.

Multiple Planning Board members said they liked the fact that the project was enhancing the historical nature of the property.

The parking lot would have 40 spaces, which does not include 14 spaces in the Town-owned section of the parking lot.

Some neighbors and owners of nearby properties opposed the project, while others like it.

One neighbor said he worries about adding traffic onto the already busy Morse Street, noting that there is a park across the street. Erminio Formato, who owns a nearby property, said he did not think the project was good for the neighborhood, particularly those living across the street.

“I am not concerned about the redevelopment, I am concerned about 37 units being built,” Formato said. He added that while the traffic study showed fewer trips going to the site than when it was the massage school, at the time vehicles were not coming and going on the weekend or nights.

Joan Vachon, who co-owns a property on Capitol Street that abuts the site, supports the project.

“We are anxious to have something nice on this property. The property has been many things over the years, some very noise, some very traffic involved, some not very neighborly things,” Vachon said. “Now the property is empty. I feel this is an area where people congregate, and I also feel like an empty building is attraction for animals, rodents, people and it is also a fire hazard.”

The proposal calls for a path to be built that connects the parking lot to the back of nearby Casey Park.

Planning Board member Payson Whitney said he likes the idea, and said the way it is designed reminds him of the Harbor Walk in Boston. He also has concerns.

“What I don’t like, and what makes me uncomfortable, is the way it is backed up on 6-10 parking spaces in the back of the plan,” Whitney said. “Cars are going to be backing out. It seems like an accident waiting to happen, especially if you have children walking back there who might not be seen by a driver.”

Others were concerned the path was too close to four ground level units on the property.

The Planning Board voted unanimously to recommend that the special permit needed to build the project be approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals. The ZBA has the final approval for the project.

View the plans for the project by clicking here.

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