The City Council last week approved a plan to build an 87-unit assisted living and memory care facility in Woburn.
Benchmark Senior Living of Wellesley is planning to construct the facility on a vacant 4.5-acre portion of an overall 5-acre site at the intersection of Salem, Washington, and Cedar streets in east Woburn. A single-family home on the remaining half acre would remain.
The City Council, which last December approved a zoning change for the project, voted 8-1 last Tuesday to grant Benchmark a special permit for the plan, which calls for 67 assisted living units and 20 memory care units, all rental, in a building to the rear of the site.
The council vote puts the approximately yearlong approval process for the $26 million project close to the finish line. Benchmark also is seeking the approval of the city’s Conservation Commission.
“We have been working closely with city of Woburn officials and staff as well as the neighbors to the site for close to a year,” Lee Bloom, Benchmark’s senior director of development, said in a statement. “We are very pleased with the approval of the plans for our senior housing community and look forward to starting construction.”
As a condition of the project, Benchmark has pledged to invest about $500,000 in improvements to the area, notably to upgrade traffic signals at two intersections to improve traffic flow.
The development also would create 70 permanent jobs, 100 temporary construction jobs, $150,000 in annual city tax revenue, and $140,000 in one-time building fees, according to Benchmark.
The project was opposed by some neighbors and owners of units in a nearby office condominium, who cited concerns about the size of the development and its effect on traffic.
But Ward 5 Alderwoman Darlene Mercer-Bruen, whose ward includes the 321 Salem St. site, voted for the rezoning last year and in favor of the special permit.
“I’m not easy to convince when it comes to developments like this and when it comes to rezoning,” said Mercer-Bruen. But she said she became convinced that Benchmark’s plan made sense for that location.
The triangular-shaped site is across Washington Street from a neighborhood of single-family homes. But Mercer-Bruen said there also are two large residential condominium complexes nearby on Salem Street, and an office park on Cedar Street.
She said unlike other potential uses of the property — including an affordable housing project — an assisted living facility would have little effect on traffic and none on the schools.
Keeping the existing home that fronts Washington Street, she said, would ensure the site fits well with the single-family neighborhood across the way. Benchmark pledged to maintain the home through a deed restriction on the property as a condition of the rezoning and the special permit.
Mercer-Bruen also cited Benchmark’s willingness to make significant road improvements to ease traffic congestion in the area even though its project would have a minimal effect. The project would provide a welcome new housing option for some residents, she said.
“I’m excited about it,” she said.
Councilor at large Mike Concannon, who cast the lone vote against the special permit, said he had concerns about “the overall size of the project as it sits on the footprint of the land,” and its effect on the neighborhood, particularly on traffic.
He said he also felt that because the City Council rezoned the land at Benchmark’s request, “the burden is on the petitioner to demonstrate the actual benefit to the neighborhood and the city. I don’t feel that they met that burden.”
Benchmark has more than 45 senior living facilities across the six New England states. There are 24 in Massachusetts, including two in Chelmsford and in Danvers, and one each in Billerica, Haverhill, and North Andover.
The company chose the Woburn site because “they knew there was a need in that marketplace and they thought this was a really nice location,” said Margaret Murphy, a real estate consultant for Benchmark.
She said the Lindquist family, which owns the home on the property, also was supportive of the proposed use.
The site has been owned by the family since 1923, according to Murphy. She said current family members want to continue residing in the house and favor the assisted living plan because of its relatively low impact.
Benchmark has an agreement to purchase the 4.5 acres from the Lindquist family.
“We very much feel this will be a good transitional use of the property,” said Mark Vaughan, an attorney for Benchmark, noting that the parcel is situated where a commercial area meets a residential one.
The project calls for 70 surface parking spaces, but as a condition of the permit, Benchmark agreed to identify an area where it could add 10 more spaces if they are needed in the future. It also committed to providing the city with easements on Salem and Washington streets to allow the road to be widened if it proves necessary for traffic flow, according to Vaughan.
The project is scheduled to begin construction in December and to be completed in the spring of 2016.
John Laidler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.