Greater Boston has a housing shortage. And malls need more foot traffic. Now a housing developer wants to put a big apartment building next to the region’s largest mall.
National apartment developer ZOM Living has proposed a 495-unit apartment and senior living development on parking lots and wooded residential property at the rear of the South Shore Plaza, a $150 million development that, if approved, would be Braintree’s largest housing development in decades. The proposal follows a pitch last summer to create lab space at the former Lord & Taylor department store.
The projects are examples of how regional malls across the US are being reimagined following the boom of e-commerce — and how their owners are looking to maximize the potential of properties that still perform well.
Putting apartments next to malls or retail properties is a commonplace development strategy, said retail analyst Floris van Dijkum of Compass Point Research and Trading. The strategy gives apartment dwellers access to amenities, and stores a stream of close-by customers. Simon Property Group, the nation’s largest mall owner, has incorporated residential development into its properties for years. Meanwhile, malls around Massachusetts — including in Woburn, Watertown, and Hanover — have been redeveloped in recent years with housing in mind.
Simon, which has owned the South Shore Plaza since 1996, is carving off an almost nine-acre slice of parking lots and woods with two homes at the rear of the mall to sell to ZOM Living. The site, located between South Shore Plaza Road and Lakeside Drive along the old Quincy Reservoir, could sell for around $20 million, said Jim Dunlop, a managing director with ZOM in Boston. ZOM has been under contract to purchase the acreage since last year.
Selling land at South Shore Plaza makes sense because Simon will receive a cash payout — and have another company shoulder the risk of real estate development, van Dijkum said. They’ll keep the 1.6 million-square-foot mall itself, which was 95 percent occupied as of the end of 2021.
“Simon is trying to say: ‘How can we maximize this?’” he said. “If you can make your malls better, and have somebody else spend the money — which is what ZOM is doing at South Shore — that’s even better.”
The Braintree project — dubbed the Residences on Granite — would mark ZOM’s entrance into the Massachusetts market, though the firm has been exploring Greater Boston for years.
“We look for opportunities to inject ourselves into a community, and be a part of a community,” Dunlop said. “Simon brought this to our attention, and we jumped at the opportunity.”
Their proposal includes 315 general-use apartments and 180 units restricted to residents aged 55 and older, in two separate five-story buildings. The buildings would wrap around parking garages with a combined 702 parking spaces, with some additional surface parking. Exterior amenities would include two pools and outdoor dining areas with grills.
Zoning for it would require majority approval from the Braintree Town Council. Councilor Joseph Reynolds said he supports the project, and considers developing housing a central component of the town’s economic competitiveness. There is little meaningful senior housing in Braintree, he said.
“People do not have the option to sell their single-family homes and stay in the community,” he said. “They want to stay, but we don’t have an option for them.”
As in many suburban areas of Greater Boston, there’s a growing push to build more housing on the South Shore.
The South Shore Chamber of Commerce’s 2030 Housing Initiative calls for 44,000 new units by 2030, and had reached 13,305 units permitted — or 30 percent of the regional goal — between 2010 and 2019. In Braintree, the town’s population grew 10 percent in the 2010s, according to a recent draft of the town’s Master Plan, while its housing stock grew just 2 percent.
“This mirrors trends across the Commonwealth where the population has increased at more than double the rate of increases in housing units, contributing to the statewide housing shortage and high cost of housing,” the master plan update states.
But not everyone’s a fan.
Kelly Moore, president of the North Braintree Civic Association, said his group doesn’t think the project is appropriate. They’re concerned about its size, and the traffic that it would generate.
“The dualistic relationship between the Plaza and the town — it’s got to work for both, and this just doesn’t work at all,” Moore said.
ZOM filed its proposal with Braintree officials this week, kicking off the permitting process. Dunlop hopes to be ready for construction by mid-2024.