BERLIN – The “housing” market is suddenly heating up on property owned by the Berlin Mall where a second major housing development is actively being pursued by an organization with a track record for making those projects happen in central Vermont.
This one would provide affordable housing for families, according to Eileen Peltier, executive director of Downstreet Housing and Community Development.
Peltier met late last week with members of the Berlin Select Board and provided them with a brief overview of a project that has been the subject of conceptual conversations with representatives of the mall that date back at least three years.
Peltier said those discussions got more serious when Dousevicz Inc. proposed the 99-unit senior housing development that was recently approved by the town’s Development Review Board and is in the process of obtaining state permits.
Peltier told the board, Downstreet was interested, but concerned its funders might be worried about investing in the first residential project proposed on a portion of the mall’s 66-acre property.
“When we were first approached about it our position was: ‘this really sounds great we’re excited about what the town is doing but we’d like to see somebody else commit to having someone live there,” she said of property owned by the mall.
“Pretty much the minute we understood the Dousevicz’s were going ahead with their project we said: ‘OK,’” she said.
Peltier said conversations with the mall’s owner, Heidenberg Properties Group, have ramped up in recent months and she said they were “very close to agreeing on a purchase price” for a parcel of undeveloped property located across the mall’s access road off of Route 62 from the two-acre “out-lot” Dousevicz plans to develop.
Though both projects are residential in nature the similarities end there.
The senior housing proposed by Dousevicz would include a mix of market rate apartments, as well as assisted living units, and an even more specialized component for those who require “memory care.”
Peltier said the housing proposed by Downstreet would be geared toward families and would likely include a mix of affordable housing and market rate apartments, as well as a ground-floor child care center designed to serve up to 60 children.
Peltier said the project now being contemplated would be similar in scale to the four-story building that now houses Downstreet’s offices on Summer Street in Barre, or Montpelier’s transit center, which is under construction off Taylor Street and includes an upper level housing component.
Peltier said the project would likely include between 30 and 40 apartments and a childcare center that could be both a resource and an employment opportunity for tenants.
Peltier said the first step “in a many step process” will be applying over the summer for money for the project that is now available through the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. If all goes well, she said the organization will have lined up all the necessary funding for the multi-million dollar project by this time next year and construction could begin in 2021.
Peltier said Downstreet is supportive of the town’s ongoing effort to secure a “town center” designation for an area that would include the mall property, it’s project wouldn’t rely on relief that might provide. She said Downstreet is assuming an Act 250 land use permit will be required.
“It’s not a show-stopper for us,” she said, referring that the added review process.
If both the Downstreet and Dousevicz projects are permitted as proposed and eventually built they would collectively add roughly 130 housing units, and a new child care center, right next door to the mall.
The proposals are consistent with the mall owner’s mixed-use vision for the property that includes a mall anchored by Walmart, a free-standing Kohl’s department store, and associated parking lots.