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Mayor backs proposal to turn coffee shop into apartments

January 22, 2019

PEABODY, Mass. (AP) — Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr. is backing a proposal to turn a former coffee shop into eight low-cost apartments, but some city councilors are opposed.

The proposal was rejected by a single vote of the City Council earlier this month and is up for reconsideration at Thursday night’s meeting.

“I’m in favor of the project,” said Bettencourt in a text message. “I am hopeful the council will reconsider their earlier vote. These new units will provide housing for a number of our residents in need of assistance.”

Four councilors oppose the project. The 7-4 vote failed to meet the required eight votes for a special permit.

Under the proposal, William Skouras plans to transform the shuttered Peabody Coffee House into eight studio apartments.

In 1997, Skouras bought the 5,460-square-foot property with his father, John J. Skouras, under the name of Trustees of William Skouras for $85,000.

The second floor of the two-story, wood-frame building features a nine-unit rooming house. Most of them are leased through a deal with North Shore Community Action Program, a nonprofit whose mission is to help the needy achieve social and economic stability through services and education.

The restaurant closed two years ago and the space has been vacant ever since. Efforts to lease the ground floor commercial space were unsuccessful. As a result, Skouras is seeking permission to convert the retail space into housing.

The new apartments would feature hardwood floors, Italian tile in the kitchens and baths, real wood cabinets, and a bathroom for each unit. They are priced at $950, including utilities and Wi-Fi. That price is well below the average cost of studio apartments on the North Shore that can fetch as much as $1,400.

But City Council President Jon Turco wants a guarantee that the units will remain affordable. He said Skouras applied for a loan through the city to renovate the property.

“The city was willing to give him a $200,000 loan at 4.5 percent and $50,000 at no interest if he signed an agreement to keep the units affordable for 20 years,” he said. “But he has not done so.”

Turco vowed to change his vote if Skouras signs the deal.

Ward 6 City Councilor Mark O’Neil said he voted “no” over flooding concerns on Walnut Street, and the fact that the building had fire code violations. But he is willing to reconsider his vote, he said.

“I was comfortable with my vote,” he said. “But I haven’t made a determination on how I will vote Thursday.”

Ward 2 Councilor Peter McGinn and City Councilor-at-Large Thomas Rossignoll also voted “no,” but did not return calls seeking comment.

Ward 3 Councilor James Moutsoulas, whose district includes Walnut Street, said he will try to convince the council to change their vote during the council hearing.

“I’m hoping they come to their senses,” he said.

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Online: https://bit.ly/2DrDQSd

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Information from: The (Lynn, Mass.) Daily Item, http://itemlive.com

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