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Arlington

Hilltop residences to open soon at old hospital site

Dozens of new apartments and town homes are nearly set to finally make their debut at the former Symmes Hospital site in Arlington after more than a decade of debate, delays and housing market gyrations.

The long-awaited Arlington 360 — named for the spectacular views from the hilltop once crowned by Symmes — should be fully complete and ready to move into by Thanksgiving, said Jake Upton, the local partner of national developer Jefferson Apartment Group.

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Ninety assisted-living units, in a separate but related project on the lower part of the old hospital campus, are on track to open in February, Upton said.

The hilltop project includes 146 apartments in two buildings, as well as 30 town homes, 12 of which will be sold rather than rented.

Overall, 20 percent of the project’s rental and ownership units will be offered as affordable housing, with 15 percent reserved for low-income households, making 80 percent of the area’s median income. The remaining 5 percent is set aside for those earning 120 percent of the median, Upton said. The median area income for a household of four is $84,187.

“It is a site that speaks for itself,” said Upton, founder and partner of Dedham-based Upton + Partners. “It has commanding views of the Boston skyline. It is a dramatic site and it is Arlington, which is a phenomenal community.”

The new housing is expected to go fast, with demand high in Arlington for both new rental units and new properties for sale, said Carol Kowalski, the town’s planning director.

The median price for a condo in Arlington rose 4.75 percent through the first eight months of the year, to $386,000, reports the Warren Group, a real estate tracking firm. Home prices in Arlington are up nearly 9 percent during the same period, to $545,500.

“It is very tight, and homeownership is highly sought after in Arlington,” Kowalski said.

As of last week, three of the 12 town homes on the market for sale have buyers lined up, Upton said.

Prices of the town homes for sale at Arlington 360 range from $619,000 to $644,000, real estate listings show.

Upton says he has already taken 10 reservations from interested renters, and he anticipates finding takers for the remaining apartments and town homes over the next six to 12 months.

Market rents range from $1,975 for a studio to $3,500 and up for a three-bedroom unit, according to the project’s website.

“The rentals will go immediately,” said Peter Phinney, a Redfin broker for Arlington and other area communities. “It is the hottest rental market ever, and I have been in the rental market for twenty-plus years.”

Phinney also predicted high demand for the few for-sale town homes that have hit the market as well.

“I think they are in the sweet spot — it is a good price point,” he said.

Still, the opening of the project has been long in coming. Arlington officials agreed to buy the shuttered hospital property in December 2001 for $7.1 million, with the chairman of the Board of Selectmen at the time calling it an “early Christmas gift.”

The town, after vetting various proposals and builders, sold the site three years later to developer EA Fish.

But EA Fish’s plans for the property met resistance from neighbors that tied up the project in litigation for two years, Kowalski said.

Both sides eventually reached a settlement that capped at 250 the number of housing units that could be built on the old hospital campus, she added.

EA Fish then turned around in 2007 and sold the property and its building plans to JPI, a national apartment developer.

But the timing could not have been worse. The real estate market downturn stalled development plans and JPI ran into trouble.

Enter Jefferson Apartment Group, which bought the construction loan from the lender and took ownership in 2011, Upton said.

“The timing of the appeal and the downturn really worked against the project,” Kowalski said.

Jefferson, with help from Upton + Partners, went to work revamping the Symmes redevelopment plan to ensure it fit with current market conditions.

A proposed parking garage was scrapped, replaced with an extra park, while original plans for condos were replaced with a lineup heavy on rentals.

That was a reflection on the housing market, with developers finding it difficult to land financing for condo projects, Upton said.

Also scrapped were plans for medical offices, which made less sense with the closure of the hospital.

Jefferson and Upton began construction last year, and they have the housing project in its final stages.

Arlington officials are still hoping that the Symmes site will eventually offer even more opportunities for would-be home buyers.

Kowalski said the town would like to see the developers eventually convert some of the rental units into condominiums.

That is likely to hinge on how fast the dozen ownership town homes on the property sell, and for what price, she said.

While also taking a wait-and-see approach, Upton said he also believes that, over the long term, condos are likely to be the best fit for the old hospital site and its valuable views.

“Most people would probably say the highest and best use long term is probably condo ownership, but the market has a big role in that.”

Scott Van Voorhis can be reached at sbvanvoorhis@ hotmail.com.
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