Halstead commercial project set for construction

After receiving variances for a project from the Zoning Board of Appeals, an application for a one-story building on Halstead Avenue received site plan approval from the Planning Board, paving the way for the applicant to begin construction. Photo/Phil Nobile

After receiving variances for a project from the Zoning Board of Appeals, an application for a one-story building on Halstead Avenue received site plan approval from the Planning Board, paving the way for the applicant to begin construction. Photo/Phil Nobile

By PHIL NOBILE
A project for new retail stores along Halstead Avenue received its final approval from the town’s land use boards, despite some criticism from concerned neighbors.

After receiving numerous var-
iances from the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals, a project to construct a one-story building at 249 Halstead Ave. went before the Planning Board on July 22 for final site plan approval.

The project, proposed by Alex D’Onofrio, calls for three new storefront retail properties facing Halstead, along with seven parking spaces connected to the rear near Fremont Street.

Members of the Planning Board approved the project by a 6 to 0 vote. New board member Joseph Stout abstained from voting as he joined the board midway through the project’s approval.

Originally, D’Onofrio came before the board around the time of the 2008 economic collapse with his project, but ultimately put the plan on hold, citing financial troubles. An original iteration of the project called for a second floor with residential units and more parking spaces, prior to the proposal being scaled back.

At the May 22 Zoning Board of Appeals meeting, the project received multiple variances, including a zoning change for the property, which was required because the north half of the property, along Halstead Avenue, was zoned for the downtown business district while the south half, along Fremont Street, was in a residential zone.

The board also requested aesthetic improvements to the potential project be added, such as shrubbery along the property line and an entry gate for the parking spaces in the rear.

The development project calls for a one-story building along Halstead Avenue consisting of three new retail stores with parking accessible in the rear. Blueprint courtesy Town of Harrison

The development project calls for a one-story building along Halstead Avenue consisting of three new retail stores with parking accessible in the rear. Blueprint courtesy Town of Harrison

John Voach, an attorney representing D’Onofrio, said Harrison’s downtown business desperately needs rejuvenation, and his client’s project was the answer to the longtime problem of slow or no business along Halstead.

“I think every resident in this town wants to be proud of downtown, and the only way that can happen is with new construction,” Voach said.

But some neighbors along Fremont Street offered skepticism and criticism of the project before its final approval.

Emil Toso, a resident of 210 Fremont St., who said he represented six residents in the area, spoke out with emphatic disapproval of the project, arguing quality of life of residents on the street would be impeded thanks to more traffic to the property because of the new parking.

“The developers care little for our residential neighborhood and try at every opportunity to steal our value and quality,” Toso said. “We’re asking for [property value depreciation] relief because there’s no other opportunity for us to do otherwise.”

Toso, who has been at odds with the developers of the project and the town’s land use boards since the project was first introduced, said other options, such as underground parking or an enclosed garage, would be better for the project and cause less of an eyesore and detriment to the
neighborhood.

“In spite of available options, the applicant chose outdoor parking with no regard for our residential neighborhood,” he said. “The Zoning Board of Appeals thinks they did us a big favor by adding an entry arm gate. This only makes the lot appear
more commercial.”

Joseph Chilelli, a resident at 227 Fremont St., asked board members if they knew whether or not the value of homes in the area would increase or decrease as a result of the project—a question Planning Board chairman Thomas Heaslip and other board members could not answer.

“If our homes are going to depreciate in value, there should be some compensation,” Chilelli, whose property sits across from the site of the development project, said. “I’m not here to stand in the way of progress.”

Despite the lack of answers to the property value or quality-of-life questions posed by some nearby residents, the project’s site plan was ultimately approved, allowing for construction to begin in the upcoming months.

CONTACT: phil@hometwn.com