Plans to convert a historic restaurant into a four-story condominium building | East Middlesex
The proposed redevelopment of an iconic restaurant site in Stoneham could prove the catalyst that catapults the community into compliance with new multi-family housing regulations imposed last year by state lawmakers.
During a planning council meeting earlier this summer at Stoneham Town Hall, local businessman John Melkonian revealed plans to convert the former property of the China Moon restaurant off the coast of route 28 into a four story condominium building.
Melkonian, whose family is perhaps best known as owners of the Stoneham Ford dealership located steps from the shuttered Chinese and Polynesian restaurant, is reportedly considering a 72-unit building containing 21 one-bedroom and 52 two-bedroom condos.
The property, located on the north side of Main Street towards the Redstone Mall and the Reading line, contains three acres of land. Currently, the site consists of a mall-style commercial building – which is now used as Stoneham Ford’s accounting office – and the former 9,000 square foot restaurant.
A third-generation family business that was something of a cultural icon in Stoneham, China Moon became one of the first victims of COVID-19 after its owners were unable to cope with the financial fallout from the closures. economies instituted in Massachusetts at the start of the pandemic.
First opened in 1953, the restaurant – despite having undergone some interior renovations – has remained virtually unchanged throughout its 70-year history. The historic company has been vacant since December 2020.
Currently, according to records kept by Stoneham’s appraiser’s office, the former 9,000 square foot restaurant is worth around half a million dollars. However, the land it sits on is currently taxed at a value of around $1.4 million.
Stoneham solicitor Charles Houghton, representing the Melkonian family, told planners during a preliminary discussion of the project in June that the plot was large enough to accommodate both housing and the adjacent commercial building.
To ensure that there are enough parking spaces for the co-owners, the developer plans to create at least 126 parking spaces, including a number on the ground floor of the new complex.
“The parcel on the right has been approved as commercial…For what remains, we propose to make 72 residential condominiums. It’s in the freeway business district, so we would need a rezoning to allow housing,” the Main Street attorney explained.
Launchpad for “MBTA Communities” Compliance
With a zoning change needed to facilitate China Moon’s redevelopment, Erin Wortman, Stoneham’s director of planning and economic development, believes the condo complex presents a unique opportunity for the city to comply with the new housing initiative. State MBTA Communities.
Also sometimes referred to as 40A, 3A – in reference to the section of the General Mass Act that was amended under a zoning reform law passed in 2021 – the MBTA Communities program will eventually require only 174 communities across the State are creating new multi-family housing neighborhoods. where apartment and condo complexes are permitted as of right.
Wortman suggested that instead of asking citizens to pass a China Moon-specific zoning change at a special town meeting in October, the Planning Board instead revise the so-called “business district of China” zoning regulations. Stoneham ‘highway’ to allow multi-family housing as of right.
“As we thought 40A, 3A is the perfect situation where we can meet our requirement by allowing additional uses that are already consistent with the current landscape [along Main Street] today,” said Wortman, who pointed out that Route 28 is already home to hundreds of apartments and condominiums.
“I think we all agree that [housing] is appropriate in the highway business district, so in many ways the discussion of [allowing housing as by-right] usage really isn’t a question. The question is really how [those developments would] look,” the planning director added.
Under draft regulations introduced this spring by the state Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development (EOHED), towns like Stoneham that receive direct MBTA services are being asked to change local zoning to encourage the construction of thousands new accommodations.
In Stoneham, which is defined as an MBTA bus community, the city is being asked to rezone at least 50 acres of land to allow for up to 2,032 new multi-family housing units.
Although municipal leaders in neighboring communities like Woburn and Reading have opposed the new lawful housing mandates, Stoneham is already well placed to comply with the state mandate. In particular, citizens at a town hall in May voted to rezone approximately 30 acres of land along the southern city limit on Fallon Road for de jure housing.
With that previous vote in mind, Wortman pointed out that if the city’s entire freeway business district was also rewritten to allow for multifamily housing as of right, Stoneham would undoubtedly comply with the state’s new mandate. .
Generally, the Stoneham Planning Board raised few objections to the redevelopment of China Moon as proposed. And with the city’s freeway business district saturated with housing, elected officials similarly agree that underlying zoning bylaws should be reformed to allow housing.
However, city officials, like Planning Council veteran Kevin Dolan, are concerned that allowing de jure housing throughout the district will result in a substantial erosion of the community’s business tax base. To ensure that the city does not inadvertently create such an environment, Dolan favors leaving parts of the freeway business district intact.
“The problem could be that we would lose our business tax base if all these landowners end up saying, ‘Let’s go with skyscrapers,’” Dolan said.
“Let’s face it, Route 28 is now bad with traffic. Including these 72 units and a few others [new housing developments], I think it’s going to get significantly worse,” the planner later remarked. “I’d like to at least consider the idea of just taking a piece of the business district off the freeway and rezoning it [for housing].”
Over the next few months, the Planning Board plans to refine the proposed zoning legislation to respond to both the China Moon Project and the mandate of the MBTA communities.
Since many Route 28 landowners can keep ground floor storefronts intact by building vertically and placing residences on the upper floors of new buildings, Wortman is confident that much of Main Street between William Street and the Reading line is perfect for mixed-use redevelopments.
However, she also told planners that she was willing to tackle the rezoning effort piecemeal.
“I know there’s some trepidation at City Hall about what will happen if all these businesses become housing. I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, but collective housing can already go to the highway business district tomorrow [under Chapter 40B]the economic developer said, referring to state affordable housing laws and Stoneham’s failure to meet those minimum standards.
“If not here, then where?” she later said of having identified the acreage needed to comply with MBTA community zoning standards. “That’s the biggest question. I would say the freeway business district is the lowest fruit in town.