WORCESTER – Plans are again in the works to redevelop a prime piece of real estate at the southern end of Coes Pond, according to a local developer.
The property at 195 Mill St., the former site of a Big D and Price Chopper supermarket, has sat vacant nearly 20 years. It’s an issue that troubles at-large City Councilor Gary Rosen.
“For 18 years, all there has been is talk (by the owner to develop the property). The neighborhood is sick and tired of this eyesore,” Rosen said.
The former supermarket building is crumbling, lowering nearby property values and hurting neighborhood morale, according to Rosen.
Rosen and District 5 City Councilor Matthew Walley co-sponsored a petition last week that received the council’s unanimous support. It instructed City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. to work with the city’s law department to encourage the owner to sell or lease the property. And to report back to the council with an update.
“If they’re encouraging the city to work with me, I think that’s great,” said Sam Adams, a real estate developer in Shrewsbury who is the manager of Worcester Mill LLC, the entity that owns 195 Mill St.
A “high-density” residential project is what Adams said he wants at 195 Mill St.
Not the first time
It’s not the first time Worcester Mill LLC has wanted to turn the vacant property into housing.
The Telegram & Gazette reported in 2007 that a representative for Worcester Mill LLC told a city council ad-hoc committee that conceptual plans were being developed for several hundred townhouses, clustered in buildings three to five stories high, overlooking Coes Pond.
However, those plans could be held up at least three years, the representative said at the time, because of a lease agreement with Price Chopper, which once had a supermarket on the site.
Price Chopper’s lease with Worcester Mill LLC reportedly ended in November 2010, even though the supermarket closed its store there almost four years earlier when it moved to a new spot at 50 Cambridge St.
Back on the drawing board
Conceptual plans are again on the table, said Peter Dunn, the city’s chief development officer.
Adams confirmed he was in discussions with the city’s development office about a residential project, but talks were put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic. Adams hopes to restart them when the pandemic ends.
Rosen, Wally and Dunn each said they would like to see housing on the property.
It’s a good time for that to happen, Dunn said, because there is increased demand for housing in Worcester. It’s borne out by the latest U.S. Census report, Dunn said, that showed a 14% increase in the city’s population since the last census was taken in 2010.
Worcester’s current population is 206,515 – the first time the city topped the 200,000 mark since the 1950 census.
Restrictions in play
There are restrictions on what can be built at 195 Mill St.
The property is in a “business limited district” zone. That means a low-rise, multifamily development is allowed but not a high-rise development. To get the latter, a zoning change is required, Dunn said.
Adams explained that a “high-density” residential project is the best use for the 10-acre site.
“I’m looking to get as much density as I think the property can hold,” Adams said. He noted high-density could mean something greater than a single-family or duplex development.
One challenge is half the property is located on a hillside that limits development options.
Business owner wants change
“It’s certainly an eyesore,” said Beth Proko, co-owner of Mill Street Motors, a 20-year business located at 253 Mill St. “I agree it would be beneficial to the neighborhood to have something there other than what is there now.”
Proko noted it’s hard to discredit any property owner who is paid up on their taxes. Worcester Mill LLC is current on property taxes, including nearly $57,000 paid in fiscal 2021, according to the city assessor’s office.
The total assessed value of the property is $1.5 million.
As for claims the property is abandoned, Adams said he has workers that pick up garbage on the site twice a week, and security and maintenance are attended to.
“It’s hardly abandoned,” Adams said.
Time for action
Rosen respects Adams’ property rights but believes the time for talk is over. It’s time for action at 195 Mill St.
“It can’t keep going on like this. It’s not the right way to do business, not the right way to treat your neighbors and your city,” Rosen said.
Development projects often take years, Adams said, adding that he’s committed to developing the property.
“We are anxious to move it up, develop it and work with the city,” Adams said.
Contact Henry Schwan at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @henrytelegram.