LEE — The Lee Planning Board and developer of the Eagle Mill need at least two more weeks to agree on how to revive the old paper mill for housing and retail space.
The five-person board voted 4-0 on Monday, with Buck Donovan absent, to wait until Dec. 14 to resume the virtual public hearing that began last week. Chairman Matt Carlino said the town attorney and the lawyer for the principal developer, Jeffrey Cohen, were unable to meet during Thanksgiving week to craft a joint motion that could allow the mixed-use project to go forward.
The board is voting on a revised special permit first approved two years ago and a site plan that calls for 50 percent more housing units and the elimination of the Faneuil Hall-style marketplace from the estimated $60 million to $70 million proposal.
The marketplace was erased from the project six weeks ago in favor of more housing, prompting the developer to include 174 on-site parking spaces — nearly half as many as first discussed. A secondary parking lot was being planned for property across West Center Street to accommodate the marketplace crowds.
The board has expressed concern that the development would need more parking; the development team says the revised plan meets the zoning parking requirement for this type of project.
While a hotel had been talked about across from the mill site, it wasn’t part of the original proposal submitted and approved by the town planners in October 2018.
Last week, several town officials and residents were disappointed at the commercial aspect being cut back, but the current economic climate dictated a change in plans, Cohen said.
Cohen said the coronavirus pandemic forced him and the development team to rethink how much commercial space would be profitable. He told the board last week that potential tenants for the marketplace had pulled out because of the beating COVID-19 has given the nation’s economy.
Cohen and his development team have submitted a revised site plan for a maximum of 122 affordable and market-rate apartments, up from 80 units, at the mill, which closed in 2008. If the board approves, the revision would include an additional six condominiums along the Housatonic River.
The revision eliminates the marketplace component of the plan, instead converting the historic mill building into housing. The Union Mill adjacent to the Eagle Mill also remains all housing, with the redevelopment still showing a new apartment building planned for the east side of the property.
Phase 1 includes the Eagle and Union mills and the renovation of the 160-year-old machine shop that will be leased to The Marketplace, which has cafes in Sheffield and Great Barrington and operates a catering business.
Phase 2 calls for leveling the 1960s-style section of the factory on the east side of the property and erecting the new apartment building.
The final aspect of the project is a new, mixed-use building fronting the machine shop with commercial space on the first floor and approximately 24 apartments on the upper floor. Cohen says that commercial space could be a future marketplace, if one becomes financially viable.
Cohen and his development team say they need Planning Board approval by Jan. 1 if they are to break ground in the second half of 2021. The developer has several financial deadlines to meet going into next year to secure funding for the project.