“Luxury Apartments on Wellman Street” by Judith Durant

Judith Durant, a resident of the Highlands, attended a meeting last night about the proposal to build 240 apartment units on Wellman Street, which is off Chelmsford St, adjacent to Lowe’s and next to the Lowell Connector. Judith shared her observations of the meeting and her thoughts about the proposal below:

I did not attend the public meeting held on March 28 by the developers of the proposed apartment complex to be located at 42 Wellman Street. But my neighbor did and he reported that the expressed expected increase in traffic to the area would be approximately 20 cars per hour. We agreed that this is not realistic. The complex as proposed has 240 apartment units and 498 parking spaces. So it seems the traffic impact was calculated by dividing the 498 spaces by 24 hours. Which of course doesn’t work because the cars will not be entering and leaving the complex at a steady rate for any 24-hour period. I’m concerned about the impact on Chelmsford Street, and that’s why I attended last night’s meeting about the project with the planning board.

The developers say that most cars will leave the complex and travel down Lowe’s Way, and then turn left to the connector. I’m skeptical. For one reason, not everyone will be leaving town each morning via the connector. The developers did say that others would likely take a bus to the Gallagher Terminal to connect to commuter rail. It is far more likely that they will drive to the terminal.

While numbers given last night took into account that the biggest impact would be during commuting hours, the estimated increase was still very low—that is my opinion and also the opinion of several members of the planning board. So I’m pleased that this matter will be further studied by traffic engineer Nicolas Bosonetto and others.

What I think is not being considered by the group is that the residents of 240 apartments are going to move about a little more than just going to and from work on weekdays. When they’re not working, they will be grocery shopping and going to restaurants, drycleaners, banks, doctor’s offices, and all the other places we go when we’re not working. This will most definitely impact weekend traffic, and I hope this is also looked into.

The other thing that occurred to me is that there may be children needing to catch a bus for school. This could be a scary proposition at the corner of Wellman and Chelmsford Streets. This concern was countered by the claim that the complex will house very few children–seems the proposal estimated there would be two children. Huh? The reasoning is that these will be “luxury market-rate” apartments, and the targeted residents will be young working professionals. What we used to call dinks—double income, no kids. The breakdown in apartment types was something like this:

10% studio
54% one-bedroom
33% two-bedroom
3% three-bedroom (7 units)

I wish them luck finding enough gainfully employed people who want to live in a luxury building that will face the connector and be located in a mostly commercial area. But we need to be mindful that if it they build it and they don’t come, the rents come down to the affordable living category for families who will need to send their kids to school safely.

3 Responses to “Luxury Apartments on Wellman Street” by Judith Durant

  1. Averell says:

    And my guess from talking to some friends who have attended one of the meetings is that the developers have a totally unrealistic outlook. They ( the friends) predict that there will be lot more cars ( as many 50- 70 plus more per hour 7- 7 ) . A lot more kids , and will eventually end up as a section 8.

  2. Gail says:

    Up until about 15 years ago, I lived in a large complex in Pawtucketville. There were two entrance/exits. It was mostly 2 bedrooms a handful of 1 bedrooms. There were a lot of retirees and families with young children. It wasn’t as if there was a mass exodus in the morning, but there probably was a fairly steady number of outbound cars between 5:30 and 9 am. Unlike Averell, I don’t see ~10% of cars leaving hourly.

    I’ve lived in communities where a desirable amenity in complexes was a shuttle van that ran between the complex/building and subway. I wonder if that is something that developers/owners might consider doing in Lowell to help mitigate traffic. If a building is fairly sizeable, it probably has a lobby, where waiting is nicer than a street corner, especially in poor weather. One of the problems with the LRTA is they try to squeeze a lot of stops in, where as a shuttle bus would be an “express” making it more desirable. I suspect the easy-on, easy-off proximity to the Connector will be a part of the sales pitch.

  3. DickH says:

    Here’s the council discussion at tonight’s meeting about this project:

    Councilor Samaras requests report on benefits of residential vs commercial uses at Connector Park. (Also takes up similar motion by Councilor Leary). Councilor Samaras says his concern is that this is the only high rise commercial property left in the city. He’d like to see a projection of what benefits would come for retaining it for commercial uses rather than allowing this proposal which calls for all residential. He says in years past, Lowell had to take whatever it could, but we are in a position to look long term at what is best for the city. Councilor Leary points out the importance of the UMass Lowell business incubator program that will help create new, high tech companies that might be seeking parcels like this one. City Manager says under current zoning code, Planning Board alone can issue a special permit to allow residential housing. However, if council wants the manager to tell the planning board to slow down the process until the council provides its input, he will do that. Leary makes a substitute motion to change the zoning in the high rise commercial district to eliminate the ability of the planning board to allow residential uses by issuing a special permit. Councilor Rourke says we should proceed cautiously with this since the developer of this proposal is already well into it and we might not want to make a big change now. Councilor Belanger says planning board might want something better, but they have to address what’s in front of them now. He predicts it will be young professionals with disposable income living there due to the highway access to Boston. City Solicitor says council can change the zoning code at any time and since this project has not already been granted its special permit, then this project would be bound by the zoning change. Mayor Kennedy says he was on the council long ago when this district was created. It does not allow residential use except by special permit. He says this is one of the last pieces of industrial land available for commercial development and with it adjacent to the highway it is extremely valuable for commercial use. He doesn’t think we should give it up for residential. He says there is no harm in passing the substitute motion because that would head to a public hearing. In the interim, the manager can give us a report on the best use for the parcel. If residential is the best use, we can vote against the change at the public hearing. The apartment building might seem good now, but you don’t know what it will be like ten years down the road. We do no harm by voting for the substitute motion and putting everyone on notice that we might change things. He says it’s important for this council to act promptly on this. Councilor Leahy says “I couldn’t have said it any better myself.” Says with the city’s recent track record, we should hold out for a commercial or industrial use. Councilor Rourke says this sets a dangerous precedent of allowing a land owner to proceed with a plan and then have the council “pull the rug out from under them.” Councilor Elliott says both motions asked for reports. Says he’s not comfortable moving forward with the zoning change; does support the request for a report. Says this seems like a knee jerk response. Maybe this is a good project. He would like a little more information. Councilor Leary asks how much time we have regarding the planning board? He says, “look at Kronos” and consider the potential it has to draw similar companies to that neighborhood. Councilor Milinazzo says we should discuss this further. Says he was disappointed by the nature of the proposal. Still, we shouldn’t act impulsively. We should wait for the report. He says moving too fast tonight risks the land owner/developer suing the city. Adds that we have plenty of land in Hamilton Canal District and on Tanner Street. Mayor Kennedy says that district does not allow residential use except by special permit. The developer may have spent money but at no time should the developer have expected to build residential by right. He says the issue is, do you support economic development or not? Vote is Leary’s substitute motion to change the zoning. Defeated 5 to 4 with no votes from Milinazzo, Rourke, Belanger, Elliott, and Mercier. Yes votes were from Leary, Leahy, Samaras, and Kennedy.

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