Bookless building approved
Michael McManmon recently received site-plan approval from the Lee Planning Board to renovate the three-story Main Street building. The board on Dec. 21 also unanimously voted to waive the strict parking requirements which would have been a major stumbling block in revitalizing the Bookless building.
Board Chairman Anthony Caropreso said the planners' endorsement is contingent on the town's Zoning Board of Appeals granting McManmon's request for a variance at a hearing on Jan. 20. The new stair towers replacing the aging outside fire escape from the upper floors will slightly increase the building's footprint. The addition requires the variance, since the 133-year-old structure already fails to meet current zoning standards.
If McManmon gets the variance, he's ready to start renovating the historic building.
"All the financing is approved," said McManmon. "We're ready to go by March or April at the latest."
Townspeople are also anxious for the project to begin.
"Everywhere you go, people are asking, ‘When is [McManmon] going to start work on the Bookless block?'" said Caropreso.
McManmon is spending $2.2 million to purchase and renovate the structure so he can convert the upper two floors into the national headquarters for his Lee-based College Internship Program (CIP) and add up to four retail stores on the first floor in the former H.A. Johansson's storefront. A manicure shop and tanning salon are currently are the only tenants in the building -- originally known as the Baird and Benton Block.
The re-use includes restoring the historic facade for aesthetic and financial reasons, as McManmon is seeking tax credits for the exterior renovations.
CIP, which was founded by McManmon in 1983, helps young adults with Asperger's syndrome -- a high-functioning form of autism -- and other learning difficulties get a college education or begin a career through local internships.
While most Lee residents and town officials wholeheartedly support the project, making sure the Bookless building has enough parking has been the biggest concern.
The Planning Board waived the zoning requirement which dictated 160 parking spaces because the project at most needs 45 to 50 spaces, and a pending proposal could ease the regulation.
"An article at the January special town meeting will increase the radius of available parking spaces for a downtown project from 200 feet to 300 feet," said Caropreso.
Furthermore, the Lee Board of Selectmen is currently negotiating with several property owners for the town to purchase land necessary for the parking spaces crucial to the overall Main Street economy. If a deal is struck, it would need special town meeting approval on Jan. 28.
While the additional parking will also help McManmon's project succeed, town officials said it wasn't needed to gain the planners' approval.
To reach Dick Lindsay:
or (413) 496-6233.
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