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The height is right

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Selectmen give unanimous support to allowing two six-story buildings in Kowloon project on Route 1 North after Wong family makes more adjustments

  There were several times this year when it looked like the Wong family would have difficulty winning support from the Board of Selectmen for a Special Permit (S-2) that would allow for the construction of two six-floor mixed-use buildings at the site of the Kowloon Restaurant. Selectman Michael Serino had been adamantly opposed to the project, saying it wouldn’t be in the best interests of the town to allow the proposed buildings to exceed the four stories and 55 feet in height that town zoning currently allows within the Route One Business Highway Sustainable Zoning District (BHSD).

  Meanwhile, Board of Selectmen Vice Chair Debra Panetta agonized over her role as casting the decisive vote that would give the project the required four-fifths vote for the board to issue the height variance. Three times, Panetta had requested that the hearing be continued so she could obtain enough information to cast an informed vote. In the latest delay, she sought an information meeting with the Planning Board on the feasibility of two six-story buildings vs. three four-story buildings.

  In the end, it was that informal session coupled with the developer’s decision to make more concessions which won the backing of Serino and Panetta as selectmen voted 5-0 to issue the S-2 permit with three conditions:

  • There would be no more than 198 apartment units in the project.
  • All of the apartments would be limited to one bedroom.
  • There would be no balconies in the entire project.

  “I will support the project going forward,” Serino said.

  “I think the revised plan is a good option,” he said.

  Serino, who had initially expressed concerns about the project’s density, said he is pleased with the developer’s decision to make a 10 percent reduction in apartment units – going from 220 to 198 – and the reduction of 13 parking spaces. Panetta said she appreciated the increase of the buffer zone at the back end of the project and other changes in the project. She credited the joint informal meeting between selectmen and the Planning Board with helping her to make a decision.

  Board of Selectmen Chair Anthony Cogliano Sr. expressed his concerns about how selectmen had assumed more responsibility in their determination of the S-2 permit than what their powers allowed. “Let the Planning Board do its job,” Cogliano said.

  “I’m not comfortable with any of the conditions, other than height,” he said.

  “That’s all I wanted to discuss – height,” Cogliano said.

  Selectman Corinne Riley said she also believes that the board was getting involved in issues that it wasn’t responsible for.

  Selectman Jeffrey Cicolini expressed frustration with the process. “I wish the height permit didn’t fall on the Board of Selectmen,” Cicolini said.

  Town Manager Scott C. Crabtree called it a learning experience for the town. He noted that the previous process required an applicant to go to Town Meeting. “Saugus needs development and they need new growth,” Crabtree said.

  “We’re looking to have new growth and the least amount of impact,” he said.

  Most of the selectmen said they think the informal meeting with the Planning Board was helpful, as well as the pre-application meeting with the town.

  While selectmen approved the S-2 permit with conditions, the Planning Board has the powers to set its conditions on the project once members begin their review.

  The first floor of both buildings would include commercial tenant space. Floors 2 through 6 would have one-bedroom luxury apartments, according to Michael McKeown, architect of the Manchester, N.H. firm, Dennis Mires, PA, The Architects. One of the buildings would house the new Kowloon Restaurant. The new restaurant would have 320 seats, and the project also includes 15,000 square feet of retail space.

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