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New plan for Malden Hospital site considered

April 26, 2017-- MALDEN - The old Malden Hospital, which closed 17 years ago. The city of Malden recently lost a lawsuit again Hallmark Health, which owns the vacant property, in an attempt to make Hallmark perform extensive fire safety repairs inside the building, a 330,000-square-foot structure. (globe staff photo: Joanne Rathe topic: 07nomalden section: north weekly now)
Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff
Malden Hospital closed in 1999 and the 330,000-square foot building has been vacant since 2004.

Malden’s mayor is asking the City Council to consider a new proposal for the long-dormant site of the long-closed Malden Hospital that calls for a less dense housing development, he said.

In a letter to the City Council, Gary Christenson said Fellsmere Housing Group, the site’s developer, has significantly changed plans for the 17.6-acre site in the city’s West End neighborhood.

Fellsmere’s original proposal included 18 single-family cottages on Hospital Road, along with 72 condominiums and 224 apartments on the former hospital site. The new plan would reduce the number of housing units by about 70, would not build on any land outside the hospital building’s footprint, and would ensure no units are rentals, Christenson said.

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“It’s less dense, and it’s all owner-occupied,” Christenson said in an interview. “I think that’s two critical issues.”

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Under the proposed plan, Christenson said in his letter to city councilors, a privately managed walking trail – which would be open to the public — would be added. Two acres of land at Fellsmere Park would be donated to the city, and 7 acres of tree-filled land would be preserved.

By Christenson’s calculations, private investment in the project would approach $100 million, and the city would collect some $1.2 million per year in tax revenue. The project also includes infrastructure improvements that would cost about $500,000.

Hallmark Health closed the hospital in 1999, and it has been vacant since offices in what had become an ambulatory medical center inside the 330,000-square foot building emptied in 2004.

City Councilor David Camell, who also sits on an ad hoc committee overseeing the site’s development, was careful to remain neutral on the proposal, saying he is open to the idea, but won’t make any decisions before a full deliberative process.

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The hospital site review committee will hold a hearing on the proposal, Camell said. He anticipated a lot of back-and-forth on the issue between the developers and members of Friends of Fellsmere Heights, a community group that supports a plan to maximize open space.

“I’m going to listen to what people want to see there, but I also want to see how the funding works out,” Camell said.

On its website, Friends of Fellsmere Heights lists concerns with a previous Fellsmere Housing Group proposal — that would have included apartments, condominiums, and an assisted living complex — including heavy traffic and a reduction of open space. The group has proposed Malden and neighboring Medford buy the property and conserve much of it.

In addition to tax revenue, Christenson said he thinks the new proposal could open Malden to state infrastructure grants. The city could seek funding to improve sidewalks, water mains, and traffic in the area.

Christenson thinks the proposal is one that city councilors should consider, but said he’s going to leave the decision up to them.

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“I think the one thing people know about me now, I’m not going to be heavy-handed about this,” he said.

Sean Teehan can be reached at spteehan@gmail.com.