Natick’s new Center Gateway Zoning District, approved by Town Meeting this past Spring, is getting its first big test via a proposal to build a 4-story retail and multi-family housing structure at the corner of Union Street and East Central St. next to Morse Tavern at the former Santander bank site.
The newly zoned district is designed to smooth the transition from Natick Center to a traditionally residential area along Rte. 135, and this proposal for 69-77 East Central St., would seem to fit right in that sweet spot. Among other things it would provide housing close to public transportation, something the town and state are pushing for through such efforts as the MBTA Communities plan.
The project involves property owned by John Stournaras, who as attorney Patrick Moynihan emphasized during the July 19 Planning Board meeting about 3 hours into the recording, also owns adjacent Morse Tavern (85 East Central St.). That’s important because it will allow for flexibility, such as with overflow parking. The family’s ownership of businesses where Morse Tavern resides has stretched back 50 years, Moynihan said, in stressing the family’s commitment to Natick.
The proposal involves demolishing the existing 4,380 sq. ft. bank building, which has been vacant for well over a year, and replacing it with a structure containing 9,685 sq. ft. of first floor retail and office space topped with about 29,000 sq. ft. of multi-family housing. The developer aims for 24 1-bedroom and 6 2-bedroom housing units, 5 of which would be deemed affordable. The building would top out at 42 feet high. The proposal includes adding and eliminating curb cuts to optimize traffic flow near the busy intersection.
Moynihan, joined by a team of architects, engineers, etc., at the Planning Board meeting, introduced the proposal in seeking special permits and waivers to get the project going. He said the project would “enhance the entryway into the downtown of Natick” in the spirit of the new Center Gateway zoning bylaw. The building would sit further back from the sidewalk than the current building, and allow for better landscaping, Moynihan said.
Architect Mark Schryver shared renderings of what the 69 East Central building might look like, if approved by the town. He pointed out plans for balconies for all 24 single bedroom units, and worked in architect-talk about the design bringing “rhythm” and “levity” to the corner.
Under the plan, a few trees will be removed, and 16 new ones, including maples, will be added, along with other plantings to provide a welcoming streetscape.
As for traffic, as always with any development plan, we’re told that we’ll barely notice additional delays despite dozens more trips in and out of the space day and night. Admittedly, this is a tough intersection, so its grade can’t get much worse than its current “D” rating.
Discussion with the Planning Board on this project will continue on Aug. 2.
The Center Gateway Zoning District also will likely bring about development across the corner from 69 E. Central where the Neighborhood Wrench closed around the end of 2020.
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