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North Andover ski area to get senior housing

Pro Con

A 133-unit senior community is planned for the old Boston Hill Ski Area in North Andover.

A former ski area in North Andover that has sat largely idle for more than two decades will soon see new life as a residence for seniors.

A Maryland-based firm, the Shelter Group, is developing a 133-unit senior living community at the base of the slopes at the old Boston Hill Ski Area at 1275 Turnpike St.

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Workers recently began clearing and grading the site. The one-building, 143,000-square-foot facility will include 65 independent living units, 41 assisted living units, and 27 units for patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

Construction is set to begin in June and take a year to complete. The Shelter Group will own and manage the all-rental, market-rate housing.

The project, which follows several unsuccessful efforts to develop the site over the last few years, is being warmly received in North Andover.

“The town is definitely supportive of the project,’’ said town planner Judith Tymon. “We have a specific special permit for continuing-care retirement centers, so that in itself indicates that we do support them.’’

She said the project is also “probably the best outcome for that site’’ given the steepness of the slope of the hill. And she said that as a condition of its special permit, the developer placed a conservation restriction on the 25 acres of the site outside the project area. Of the eight acres within the project area, about five will be disturbed, according to the Shelter Group.

Other benefits of the project are the permanent jobs it will generate - 61 full time and 78 part time once the facility opens - and the revenue it will provide for the town, Tymon said, noting that there will be no offsetting cost impact on the school system.

A condition of the permit provides that even if a nonprofit were to take ownership of the property in the future, it would be responsible for paying the taxes that would normally be assessed on the property.

“For us to be able to guarantee there will be tax dollars going to help with the other areas of the community, the other services we provide, brings stability, which is important,’’ said Town Manager Andrew Maylor.

“There has been discussion of different projects over the years’’ at the former ski area, Maylor said. “It’s certainly a positive that the project is moving forward, and from a community perspective, it will be an important asset and bring an important service to the region.’’

Through its Brightview Senior Living division, the Shelter Group owns and manages 22 senior living communities in nine states, including four in Massachusetts - in Billerica, Danvers, Walpole, and Woburn. The company recently began permitting for development of a 90-unit residence in Arlington.

Pro Con, a firm based in Manchester, N.H., is designing and building the project for the Shelter Group.

“We are excited about it,’’ said Dan Rexford, vice president of sales and marketing for the Brightview division.

With its existing senior communities in and around Boston, his company “has established a base here,’’ Rexford said. “This is sort of a natural progression form that standpoint.’’

The Boston Hill Ski Area opened in 1957, according to the website Lost Massachusetts Ski Areas, which said the area was one of the first in the nation to have snowmaking. Over the years, it also became a summer attraction, introducing an alpine slide in the 1970s, and in the 1980s, “summer skiing’’ - skiing downhill on bristled mats, the website said.

The area closed in the late 1980s. For a time in the 1990s, an archery shop operated in the base lodge, according to the website. Several years ago, the then-owner of the property received town approval to demolish the old ski area buildings and construct a multifamily development at the site, according to Tymon. She said the ski buildings were torn down but the project never went forward.

In 2010, the Planning Board issued a special permit for a development proposed by the Gralia Group, a Massachusetts firm, calling for a 125-unit senior community, according to Tymon. But she said that project also never went forward.

Last July, the Planning Board approved the Shelter Group’s application to make use of the same special permit with some revisions, Tymon said. The board concluded that the changes - which included allowance for up to 10 additional units - were not substantial so a new special permit was not required.

On Feb. 16, the Shelter Group closed on the purchase of the 33-acre property, according to Rexford.

The facility is scheduled to open in July 2013.

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