Neighboring landowner objection stalls Steeplegate redevelopment approval

By CATHERINE McLAUGHLIN

Monitor staff

Published: 05-09-2024 3:04 PM

Modified: 05-09-2024 4:09 PM


Plans to redevelop the former Steeplegate Mall will remain before the Zoning Board a little longer after a nearby landowner aired full-throated objections.

Onyx Partners, which bought the former Steeplegate Mall and Regal Cinemas properties last year, has plans to build three multi-story apartment buildings with ground-floor retail, a Costco, other shops and spaces for the mall’s remaining three tenants, and demolishing most of the current structures. To move forward with their plans, Onyx needed an array of variances, most related to minimum parking requirements, which were all approved but one.

The developers cleared their major hurdle, which was to reduce the number of required parking spots per living unit to keep the amount of pavement at the site smaller, but other issues remain.   

The land leased by the current TD Bank forms a condominium association with Applebee’s and the mall. Susan Silverman — who owns the bank’s land through a limited liability company, according to business and property records — opposed the project in its entirety.  

Silverman did not appear at the meeting. Her attorney, Laura Gandia, argued that the mall could not submit zoning applications without the consent of the entire association and questioned the board’s authority to grant any of the variances.

“My client did not sign the application to allow this variance application to forward,” Gandia said. “They did not consent to the filing of this application for a variance and it’s not prudent or proper for this board to consider hearing that application.”

The zoning board found those arguments unpersuasive because of the mall’s majority control of the condo association, and furthermore found that the difficulty in redeveloping this property at all presented a level of hardship qualifying it for variances. Projects hoping for exceptions must show, among other things, how meeting the city ordinance presents a “hardship.”

“The peculiar characteristics of this lot do create hardship,” Chairman Chris Carley said. “It has to do with the scale of the existing development, the scale of the property itself and the challenges involved in redeveloping it, which relate in my mind to the question of ‘Can you use the property in a reasonable way without a variance?’”

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On one item, though — a property frontage issue directly along to the bank’s property — did draw pause from the board. Unsure of legal precedent around the Silverman’s opposition, it tabled that one variance to get input from the city solicitor.

Onyx originally presented its applications in January. It was tabled, and there it stayed, for several months.

“We’ve had a number of delays in getting to this evening,” Ari Pollack, an attorney for Onyx, said to the board after it heard the neighbor’s objections. “One of the reasons we took the long time out was to try and resolve these things so that you didn’t have to bear witness to this laundry. We failed, we’re here and now you have to bear witness.”

Pollack painted Silverman’s objections as made in bad faith.

“This impasse is regrettable, unfortunate. But it’s all for a reason, of course,” he said. “Their interests are different than those of the community.”

Gandia declined to comment on her client’s behalf beyond the content of the meeting.

Awaiting legal advice on the weight of the neighbor’s opposition, the tabling of the one variance means the project will have to come back before the zoning board before it can move forward.

“We simply have to take the case on its merits, table the one and act on all the others,” Carley said. “If it turns out this isn’t really about zoning, they’ll come back with something.”