Revised Plan For "New Downtown" Gets Mixed Reviews At Planning Board

Jason Graziadei •

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The revised plans for the "new downtown" development on Sparks Avenue got mixed reviews Thursday evening during its first public hearing before the Planning Board.

The new proposal - which features a single 63,200 square-foot building rather than three separate buildings along Sparks Avenue - received some positive comments from Planning Board members before they decided to continue the review until November.

"I appreciate the scaled down version of this," Planning Board chair John Trudel said as he thanked the developers' team for pulling the previous plan. "I can see the efficiency of one building with the break-up that makes it look like two buildings. This is a pretty big project, and we're not going to look at this as an individual project - even though it is - but look at the area overall. How we want the future of this area - the downtown out of town - to look."

Developers Christopher Fiumara and Daniel Najarian are seeking permits to construct a mixed-use building that would stretch from 18 to 26 Sparks Avenue, including the area where The Downyflake restaurant is currently located to the Cumberland Farms property.

According to the latest proposal, the development would include four floors (with three above grade) featuring dedicated spaces for a 50-seat restaurant, another take-out food establishment, along with a bank/office space, a six-lane bowling alley with an arcade, and 34 apartment units totaling 62 bedrooms.

The development's 94 parking spaces would be located on either side, and behind the main building, and there would be two-lane entrances on either side of the structure. The design would incorporate areas of the adjacent properties into the planned development, something that Fiumara and Najarian have not yet received permission to do from those land owners, but an aspect of the project that at last one Planning Board member viewed as a way to bring some coherence to that area of Sparks Avenue.

"Seeing something like this, it's opening up all the mistakes and fixing them," Planning Board member Nat Lowell said. "It’s so easy to be negative about it, but someone is going to build on these lots. Something is going to happen here. This is our job. We have to do this and ask the applicant to consider these things. I think we have a really good start."

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Fiumara and Najarian are the co-founders of the Boston-based Crowd Lending Inc., a commercial real estate lender. Property records show their partners in the project include Jared Gerstenblatt and Christopher Grimaldi, managing partners of the New York brokerage firm Chimera Securities. Together they spent $10.75 million to purchase the Downyflake property and three surrounding parcels on the west side of Sparks Avenue.

They were represented at the hearing by island attorney Steven Cohen.

"Having 32 units in this areas that is walkable and near restaurants and Stop & Shop and the school is an amazing opportunity to get that entry level , year-round rental housing that doesn't exist," Cohen said. "This is exactly what the Master Plan calls for with this mixed-use development here."

Cohen was pressed by Planning Board vice chair David Iverson on whether the housing units would be deed restricted as affordable, or have any other guarantees regarding pricing or eligibility.

"There's no intent to deed restrict them at the moment, but the intent is for them to be year-round rentals," Cohen said. "They’r not going to be weekly rentals. They’ll be owned by the developer, with no intent to be sold out as condos or rented out by the owner on a weekly basis. We're talking to Housing Nantucket to see if we can get them into the SHI (subsidized housing inventory) list by having some affordable housing restrictions. The market for these, based on location and design, is year-round housing."

First proposed in the early spring of 2021, the development has already been the subject of numerous Planning Board hearings in which it has been met with criticism. The design has yet to go to the Historic District Commission for review.

But the proposed layout had neighboring property owner Charles Locke concerned. Locke owns the building that currently houses Cumberland Farms and the Seconds Shop.

"It’s not better for us," Locke told the Planning Board. "I have to take into consideration our tenants, Cumberland Farms and the Seconds Shop. There's major issues I'mm looking at that will impact my business and the business of Cumberland Farms and the Seconds Shop. Cumberland Farms is my anchor tenant and I can’t afford to lose them."

Chris Young, the owner of Housefitters & Tile Gallery on the other side of the proposed development, also expressed concerns about how the layout - specifically the entrances and exits to the properties - would impact his business.

The hearing will continue at the Planning Board's November meeting.

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