By Barbara Taormina
The Friends of Fellsmere Heights were at the City Council meeting this week to present a proposal to redevelop the Malden Hospital site, a plan to help pay for the project and a strategy to get to the next step. Bob Doolittle, vice president of the nonprofit group, outlined the Friends’ proposal to devote 16 acres of the site to open space and community uses, such as athletic fields, gardens and a performance space. The remaining two acres would be reserved for private development, ideally for senior housing.
“The great goal of the Friends, an alliance to bring together former adversaries, is to do something wonderful up there on the hill,” said Doolittle.
He credited Mayor Gary Christenson, City Council President Debbie DeMaria, Malden Hospital owner Hallmark Health and Medford Mayor Stephanie Burke for their input and advice, and he highlighted the intercity cooperation and collaboration behind the Friends’ proposal. A small piece of the hospital land is located in Medford.
Steve Keleti, a volunteer director for the Friends, provided a list of possible state grants and private foundations that could be tapped to fund the proposal. Keleti and Doolittle urged the councillors to open the lines of communication with Hallmark Health about a possible acquisition of the site. Such a move would allow Malden and Medford to apply for some of their local Community Preservation Fund dollars, which could be used to develop a detailed engineering plan for the site that would address the interests and needs of both communities.
“We need a united and attractive plan that could be competitive for funding,” said Doolittle.
The Friends were joined by Peter Converse, the great-great-grandson of Elisha Converse, who donated much of the hospital land to the City of Malden. Converse attended the council meeting to express his support for the Friends and for the proposal to preserve the hospital land for the community. (See related story.)
The Friends’ plan is an alternative to Fellsmere Housing Group’s proposal to build a multifamily residential complex with a mix of 250 condos, townhouses and single-family homes. In exchange for a zoning change that would allow the project to move forward, the Fellsmere Group would provide a seven-acre buffer around the development with trails that will be open to the public. Malden would also receive $500,000 in mitigation money to ease the development’s impact on the city, and a donation of two acres of land to expand Fellsmere Park.
The council also received a packet with a third option, an “in-process” Plan for Hospital Hill, developed by longtime local activist Brian DeLacey, who sought input from dozens of residents throughout the city for the proposal. The big-picture Plan for Hospital Hill calls for relocating the senior center and 50 percent of the city’s public works operations to the hospital site and using the funds from the sale of the current senior center and DPW yard to fund a hospital redevelopment project that would include 15 acres of open space for community uses.
Councillors are under some pressure to decide soon about which direction to take with the hospital redevelopment. The Friends are hoping for council support in negotiations with Hallmark Health so they can apply for this year’s round of Community Preservation funding. The deadline for pre-applications has already passed, and final applications are due by Sept. 4.
The state Department of Housing and Economic Development has promised Malden $2.5 million for infrastructure improvements if city officials approve Fellsmere Housing Group’s development proposal. But that offer is only guaranteed until the beginning of August.