Connors property eyed for condo development

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After more than 70 years of continuous and successful operation, Connors Wayside Furniture on Route 138 is planning to close up shop and retire — and owners Jerry Connors and Peter Bickoff believe they have found the right buyer to take their place.

While nothing has been finalized, Connors and Bickoff have agreed to a deal in principle with the development team of James Lamarr and Paul Folkman, two local builders with a lengthy track record in the greater Boston area.

Connors Wayside Furniture (Image source: Google Maps)

Connors Wayside Furniture (Image source: Google Maps)

According to Canton attorney Paul Schneiders, the duo — Lamarr of Canton and Folkman of Mansfield — intend to seek zoning approval for 32 one- and two-bedroom condominium units. They plan to rehab and remodel the existing structure while also restoring some of the historical elements of the building, particularly in the front left portion closest to Washington Street.

At this point, the project is still very much in the conceptual stages, and no hearing dates with any town boards have been scheduled. However, the developer recently met with abutters and various town officials and came away encouraged by the response.

“There has been no opposition as far as I can tell,” Schneiders said of the condo proposal, which would require at least some form of relief from the Zoning Board of Appeals due to its location in a single residence district.

Schneiders noted that the furniture store is a preexisting nonconforming use, meaning that it could stay there forever or be transferred to another, similar furniture store owner. Under the current town bylaws, a property owner could also seek ZBA approval to change the current commercial use to another nonconforming use that is not “substantially more detrimental … to the neighborhood.”

The thinking among the two interested parties is that the condominium project meets that standard — certainly more so than some of the other uses that have been proposed for the site, including a retail pharmacy, a hotel, an urgent care facility, a grocery store, and a self-storage facility.

Peter Pineo, who lives across the street from the Connors property, counts himself among those who are at least intrigued by the condo proposal while simultaneously being turned off by the other proposed uses.

“Sometimes you have to weigh your options,” he said. “Some of the other commercial uses that have been bounced around are very intensive, high-volume operations involving long hours and frequent deliveries. The combination of those [factors] in a neighborhood is fairly problematic, with a much higher traffic impact.”

A former Planning Board member, Pineo said the proposal by Lamarr and Folkman seems to have some potential and he has been encouraged by their willingness to work with the neighbors.

“It’s a good starting point,” he said. “They seemed very receptive to input from not only the abutters, but the [entire] neighborhood.”

Pineo said the meetings between the two sides thus far have been productive and informative, and he is especially pleased with the developers’ willingness to preserve the building while incorporating historical elements into the design.

“The fact that they are keeping the building is very interesting,” he said. “I think a lot can be done with it if it’s creative and sensitive to the town and to the neighborhood.”

Pineo noted that the building itself has a fascinating history — one that he detailed in the chapter on Ponkapoag in the 1997 bicentennial book Canton Comes of Age.

Located at 2239 Washington Street, the property was once the site of a popular general store, Billings and Horton’s, as well as a First National grocery store for a brief period in the 1920s. It also spent time as both an automobile showroom and gas station/car repair shop before it was purchased by Leonard Connors in the early 1940s.

The building has since expanded to include a large showroom and warehouse, but the Connors furniture business has always been a “low-impact operation” while becoming something of a fixture in the Ponkapoag neighborhood over the past several decades, according to Pineo.

“They really have been great neighbors and we wish them well,” he said. “Now it’s the next step and hopefully the [new developers] become good neighbors too.”

In the meantime, Pineo said he will continue to ask tough questions of Lamarr and Folkman while keeping an open mind about the proposal and its potential benefits to the neighborhood.

“I think there’s an opportunity here to do something really great,” he said, “and it’s up to the developers to prove that this project is the right one and to sort of earn the trust of the neighbors and the town. The burden is really on them, but I think it’s doable.”

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avatar Posted by on Mar 27 2014. Filed under Business.
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