Real estate developer James Baker is proposing a three-story commercial building for a high-profile corner of Savin Hill Avenue and Sydney Street, featuring a first-floor neighborhood market.
The building would replace what is now a boarded up, defunct variety store that has been an eyesore on Savin Hill’s main drag for years. The site at 110 Savin Hill Ave. is steps from the Savin Hill station, near the Savin Bar and Kitchen and the Cristo Rey High School and across from McKenna’s Cafe.
Baker explained his current plans for the property at a meeting of the Columbia-Savin Hill Civic Association’s planning committee on Tuesday evening.
“I see this as, frankly I’ll refer to this as an aspirational development, or really something that could be part of the heartbeat of the neighborhood, and something that would keep me busy and interested for the next ten years,” Baker said at the meeting.
The project is “in process; we haven’t filed anything with the city yet,” Baker said, adding that “in an ideal world, we’d like to be able to start building by the fall or winter. If not, it’ll be next spring,” he said.
Baker purchased the property using an LLC that he controls in July 2016. It was acquired from the previous owner Anthony Desmond for $850,000, according to records. At the time, Baker said the property would likely make way for a mixed-use residential and commercial building.
Now the plan is “100 percent commercial,” Baker said. Whether that means two or three total tenants is still to be determined.
One thing has remained the same: Baker intends to include a 4,000-square foot neighborhood market on the first floor, a throwback of sorts to its former use as a retail market.
“One thing we’ve gained from community feedback is there absolutely, positively, needs to be a market on the first floor,” Baker said. “I have no experience running a market, but I want to be an owner of a market, so we have to find someone to help me run it.”
Given the overall square footage, they are hoping to put in place a fresh food grocer, with some kind of delicatessen serving prepared and made-to-order meals, offering wine and beer sales. Attendees noted that liquor stores already exist within a few blocks of the site, while the development team said the market would offer more of a craft brew variety.
Baker told the planning committee that there is a purchase agreement for the abutting property at 10 Sydney St. Combined, the two lots give them about 8,000 square feet of land with which to work.
Kevin Deabler of RODE Architects also reviewed the plans with meeting attendees. As the Flats on Savin are under construction above the Savin Bar and Kitchen property across Sydney Street, both the apartments and the Cristo Rey school are providing a context for height along that stretch of Savin Hill Avenue he said. “So there’s some exciting things brewing with the transformation of the village,” Deabler said.
As the site is considered a local convenience district, it is zoned for 40 feet of height. A loading area and small, five-space parking lot would sit behind the building, accessible from the one-way Sydney Street.
Attendees at the monthly planning meeting responded well to the design, with queries raised about the nature of the top floor commercial tenants. The development team will be examining what the best use for the top two floors should be. Possibilities include some kind of restaurant or cafe, office space, or spa, but largely depending on what their market research determines.
Michael McKittrick, a Lowell native who has lived with his wife in Savin Hill for the past four years, abuts the 10 Sydney St. property.
“The design looks very good,” McKittrick said. “Aesthetically, it looks good. But I’d say there’s still concerns about parking and traffic.”
With the lot’s placement on Savin Hill Avenue, McKittrick said he worries about it contributing to an existing congestion problem around the site.
“That corner continues to be very congested by trucks and off-street parkers,” he said. “And I don’t know what the remedy is for that, but we have small children, an infant, and I want my child to be safe running down that street and I don’t want there to be giant trucks backing in and backing up down the street the wrong way, which is currently an issue.”