April 20 2018,  Malden

City Council takes a new direction in hospital debate

By Barbara Taormina

 

The City Council agreed this week to reach out to Hallmark Health with the hope of launching a discussion about the future of the former Malden Hospital site. Ward 3 Councillor John Matheson, who heads up the Malden Hospital Site Redevelopment Ad Hoc Committee, drafted a letter to Hallmark Health and Wellforce, Hallmark’s parent company, asking officials to meet with the council. Councillors want an opportunity to explain the community’s concerns about traffic and density associated with Fellsmere Housing Group’s proposal to build 214 condos, 18 town houses and 18 single-family homes at the former hospital site.

Matheson said the ad hoc committee voted to send the letter in the hope of finding some common ground with Hallmark Health/Wellforce that would balance the interests of the company with the needs and concerns of residents. Although Hallmark Health did not respond to a similar request for a meeting proposed by Matheson and State Senator Jason Lewis back in 2016, the council voted to have the city solicitor review the letter and to drop it in the mail.

The decision to contact Hallmark Health came after Councillor-at-Large Craig Spadafora made the case for having the Fellsmere Housing Group and the Friends of Fellsmere Heights present a proposal to the Ordinance Committee for a zoning overlay that would allow a clustered mix of residential housing at the hospital site. Although the Fellsmere Housing Group has a purchase and sale agreement with Hallmark Health, the Friends of Fellsmere Heights, a nonprofit citizens’ organization, has proposed an alternative 16 + 2 plan that would preserve 16 acres of the hospital site as open space and commit two acres to a private residential development.

“Anything that happens at Malden Hospital requires an ordinance change,” said Spadafora, adding that it is now zoned Residential A, which allows only single-family homes.

“We’ve talked about this for the past three or four years,” said Spadafora. “We are at what I consider to be a stalemate.”

Although it has been about two and a half years since 71 percent of the residents who went to the polls in the 2015 election voted in favor of having the city investigate the possibility of acquiring the hospital site, during most of that time the city has had a moratorium on large-scale residential development in place. That moratorium ended three and a half months ago.

Spadafora said that sending hospital site proposals to the Ordinance Committee would at least set things in motion and allow councillors who serve on that committee to decide which plan they want to vote up or down. But Matheson suggested Spadafora’s recommendation was premature. “Sending it to the Ordinance Committee takes it out of the hands of the residents, the ward councillor and the ad hoc committee,” he said, adding that a change in zoning at this point would only be in the interest of the Fellsmere Housing Group.

Matheson asked the council to honor the work of the ad hoc committee and the many residents who have turned out for the committee’s public forums by allowing the council to first try and meet with Hallmark Health/Wellforce. If the hospital site owners are willing to negotiate a sale to the City of Malden or to the Friends of Fellsmere Heights, Malden may be able to tap its Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds to help finance the purchase. But CPA money would only be available after the start of negotiations.

The council voted to table Spadafora’s motion to move the hospital debate to the Ordinance Committee to give Matheson and the ad hoc committee time to finish their work and to try and reach an understanding with Hallmark Health/Wellforce.

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