Three Housing Plans for Former Ornsteen Lot Emerge; Competing Proposals Offer 110-320 Apartments

Neighborhood of Affordable Housing of East Boston proposes a single, long building along the Merrimack River. (Courtesy rendering.)

A committee will soon begin reviewing three new proposals for building apartments at the city-owned, former Ornsteen Heel property near the Bradford commuter rail station.

City councilors rejected one of the applicants—Neighborhood of Affordable Housing—a year ago and may end up having a chance to vote on one—Princeton Properties—they preferred at the time, but the firm had not yet bid. A newcomer, Procopio Companies of Lynnfield, proposes the most housing units of all.

Neighborhood of Affordable Housing, known as NOAH, of East Boston is proposing 110-130 market rate and “workforce” apartments in a single building and bidding $1.2 million. Princeton Properties, which has an ownership interest in the former Forest Acres apartment complex off South Main Street, proposes 144 market rate apartments spread between two buildings and has bid $500,000. Procopio proposes 320 market rate apartments over three buildings and bid $2 million.

All projects for the nearly five-acre site come with conditions, such as property tax relief or grants; plenty of parking spaces; and public access to the Merrimack River waterfront.

NOAH says its six-story, $40 million “Bradford Landing” features a two-acre public park. If it also acquires the 2.7-acre former Skateland properties, the park would be built closer to the existing rail trail. It features parking below the building as well as open-air spaces. The company says 60% of the units will have water views. There would be 78 two-bedroom, 39 one-bedroom and 13 three-bedroom apartments. Some are “affordable, though not inexpensive” units.

Princeton Properties would partner with Beacon Communities and targets range from “millennials to empty nesters.” Construction cost is estimated at about $33 million minus a $2.5 million state MassWorks grant. The company envisions 52 one-bedroom and 92 two-bedroom apartments. It plans a “river walk” open to the public.

Procopio, which says it already has purchase and sale agreements on adjacent properties, proposes two four-story buildings and one six-story building, each with 100 apartments. The developer breaks out unit type in percentages, saying 5% will be studios; 55%, one-bedroom; 35%, two-bedrooms; and 5% three-bedrooms. It plans a mix of garage and surface parking and a 60,000-square-foot public park area with a river-walk, kayak and paddle board launches, pet-park area, outdoor fitness, children’s playground and walking access to the Comeau Bridge. It proposes an option to sell the public park back to the city. Construction costs are estimated at up to $72 million.

Mayor James J. Fiorentini has named a review committee comprised of City Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O'Brien, Planning Director William Pillsbury, Purchasing Director Steven S. Bucuzzo and City Solicitor William D. Cox Jr. The committee will be assisted by Utile, a company already under contract with the city to develop a new master plan. The mayor says he seeks recommendations sometime next month.

Last year, city councilors voted 6-2 against naming Neighborhood of Affordable Housing as the preferred developer, citing unclear financing and a lengthy completion timeline as obstacles. Princeton Properties’ CEO Andrew M. Chaban had not bid at the time, but was introduced to the concept by Haverhill businessman Joseph D’Orazio and Greater Haverhill Foundation Managing Director Ronald G. Trombley.

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