Lowell Board Grants Conditional OK on Thorndike Exchange
LOWELL -- A major mixed-use development at the long underutilized mill building next to the Gallagher Terminal was approved by the Planning Board Wednesday, passing a key hurdle.
Businessman Sal Lupoli, the property owner, said he plans to move quickly, opening 42 residential units within nine months.
Although the site plan and a special permit for the project, Thorndike Exchange, was approved unanimously, some challenges still lie ahead.
Lupoli and his team must still work with the city's planning officials to satisfy concerns that the project would add to an already congested and often dangerous stretch of road. The city does not want to allow for left turns from the site onto Thorndike Street, but Lupoli said the project "really hinges on me being able to do that."
Approval was granted conditionally on both sides being able to reach a compromise on the traffic issue.
The project also requires Historic Board approval, although the developers have been working with historic officials in City Hall for several months on details of the plan. No Historic Board hearing has been scheduled yet.
Thorndike Exchange will take a long dilapidated building at a key gateway to the city and turn it into one of the city's biggest mixed-use developments.
Lupoli has changed some aspects of the plan in hopes of attracting some of several hundred Perkins Park residents. The Perkins mill development was recently bought by UMass Lowell to eventually become a dormitory.
A group of Perkins residents attended Wednesday's hearing to support Thorndike Exchange.
Ralph Sutter, who has been an outspoken leader of residents there, urged the Planning Board to approve the project and allow an option for Perkins residents to stay in the city with similar mill living. He said about 100 residents have expressed interest in moving to Thorndike Exchange.
"It's hard not to get excited about this," he said.
Another Perkins resident, Hillary Behrens, showed pictures that illustrated how simiar Perkins and the Thorndike building looked before being renovated. She was confident Thorndike Exchange would spruce up its neighborhood like Perkins did.
A resident at the abutting Keith Academy apartments, Jaclyn Smith, said she "loved" the project but was concerned about how a new eight-story building would stand tall over their apartments.
"I"m here to speak for those residents," Smith, a trustee for the apartments, said of those who would be most affected by the new gray- and tan-facade structure.
The number of planned apartments at Thorndike Exchange has increased to 152, from 118. A total of 82 residential units will have one bedroom, and 58 will have two bedrooms. There will be 12 studios.
It will include two restaurants and 31,000 square-feet of commercial space, only slightly more than half of what was first planned. The project will rely on about 160 parking spaces at the adjacent Gallagher Terminal, with a planned enclosed footbridge between the mill and garage that would be built next spring.
Initial filings set the project cost at $30 million, but Lupoli has since said he plans to spend $50 million or more. He said he will not be seeking historic tax credits, as some other mill renovations have.
Approval required a compromise on traffic safety concerns.
Thorndike Street gets 40,000 to 45,000 vehicle trips per day, according to the city. The intersection of Thorndike and Highland streets is the 74th most dangerous intersection in the state, based on its rate of accidents.
Nicolas Bosonetto, the city's transportation engineer, suggested Thorndike Street be widened, with designated left-turn lanes from Thorndike to the Gallagher Terminal and from Gallagher to Highland.
"As it exists today, you cannot have left turns out," he said, recommending only right turns leaving the property.
The two sides said they would work together to find a solution, which could include restricting left turns to certain off-peak hours. Lupoli said he could not afford to wait for a lengthy road widening project.
"If it's 18 to 24 months, this project doesn't exist," he told the board. "It's just too long for us to move forward on this." He later said he was confident they would be able to reach a compromise.
By Grant Welker • August 17, 2016 • The Lowell Sun • Original Article