Parking deck targeted for major redevelopment project in downtown Athol 

  • Athol Economic Development and Industrial Corporation Chairman Keith McGuirk discusses plans for a retail/housing development on the site of the now-closed downtown parking garage. PHOTO BY GREG VINE

  • Members of Athol’s Economic Development and Industrial Corporation discuss plans for a commercial/housing development proposed for the site of the now-closed downtown parking garage. (l-r) Courtney Fifield, Mark Wright, Chairman Keith McGuirk, Rebecca Bialecki, and Clerk Sarah-Ann Schouler. PHOTO BY GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News 
Published: 11/14/2022 4:17:54 PM
Modified: 11/14/2022 4:17:53 PM

ATHOL — In July, Fitchburg developer Bill Krikorian appeared before Athol’s Economic Development and Industrial Corp. with an offer to purchase the downtown parking garage — closed in recent years due to safety concerns — and transform the site into housing and retail space. At the EDIC meeting last Wednesday, corporation chairman Keith McGuirk announced an important first step has been taken toward achieving that goal.

“We did, after much ado, back and forth, I did sign the final version of the purchase and sale agreement,” he said. “A few changes that were minor in nature had to made here and there, based on requests from the purchaser’s attorney and, of course, from our attorney. So, we did finally come to an arrangement, and I signed the agreement on behalf of the EDIC.”

Fitchburg-based Krikorian Enterprises paid the EDIC $10,000 for the property on which the parking deck is located. Voters at the annual Town Meeting in June approved transferring ownership of the property from the town to the corporation, which planned to market the site in hopes of facilitating the economic revitalization of downtown Athol.

Before transferring ownership of the property to the EDIC, the town had looked at a couple of options for the parking deck, which was closed after pieces of concrete began falling from the structure, putting property and the public’s safety at risk. The cost of rebuilding the deck — option one — was pegged at somewhere in excess of $1.2 million. Option two — razing it — was estimated to cost up to $200,000. It was the cost of either option which convinced town officials to see if the property could be marketed and sold to a private developer.

McGuirk told members of the EDIC that there currently are four zoning variances that must be approved before the redevelopment project can move forward.

Athol’s zoning bylaws limit the height of any building in the central commercial zone to 50 feet, as well as limiting the number of stories to four. Krikorian’s plan call for six stories rising from the site of the parking deck, five stories from the South Street side of the structure.

Athol Planning and Development Director Eric Smith said a variance also would be necessary for the developer’s plan to include residential units on the first floor, where commercial is required.

“Our (central commercial) zoning simply says residential must have a commercial storefront,” said Smith. “The way he has the first floor laid out he has a commercial storefront but with residential in back of it.”

Smith also noted that the bylaws require a minimum of 600 square feet for a studio apartment. Krikorian’s plans currently call for studios to be 400 square feet in size.

At a recent meeting with town officials, McGuirk explained, “I know Mr. Krikorian was glad to meet with department heads to get some answers for moving in the right direction. He now has to do quite a bit of paperwork to apply for these hearings and appear before the Zoning Board of Appeals, and later the Planning Board.”

Smith said recent discussions with Krikorian indicate he’d like to appear before the ZBA before the end of December.

McGuirk noted that Krikorian has been doing its due diligence by initiating an environmental investigation.

“It’s called a 21b investigation,” said McGuirk, “and they haven’t found anything yet. They’ve done some test borings. This is just a requirement for almost any commercial property nowadays, you have to do that. And if you’re doing financing, you’ve got to do it even more because you’re not going to get financing on a commercial property without a 21b. So, that’s what they’re doing now.”

Smith said the public will get a chance to see Krikorian’s proposal at the Dec. 13 meeting of Athol’s Downtown Vitality Committee.

McGuirk was quick to point out the developer’s proposal is not yet set in stone. Current plans call for the construction of 48 units of housing, but McGuirk said that number will change if Krikorian is unable to secure the variance allowing him to build apartments smaller than the 600-foot zoning requirement.

“The thing is,” said McGuirk, “it’s so expensive to do now, between accessibility, environmental issues, energy efficiency issues, you name it, it’s expensive. If you can’t get a certain number of units, it’s not worth doing the project.”

The overall cost of construction, Smith said in response to a question, is currently estimated at between $12 million and $15 million.

“This project,” said McGuirk, “could be the centerpiece for downtown revitalization.”

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com. 


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