WINCHESTER — The city’s Planning Commission was scheduled on Tuesday to discuss a potential land-use change for Friendship Park that would allow the construction of affordable senior housing at the site. That didn’t happen, though, because four of the seven commission members missed the meeting and the panel didn’t have a quorum.
Instead, commission Vice Chairwoman Lacey Burnett, filling in for absent Chairman Mark Loring, invited anyone in attendance at Rouss City Hall to share their thoughts about the park proposal so their comments could become part of the official record.
Vivian Walker, a resident of Winchester’s North End, accepted Burnett’s offer.
“I’ve heard a lot of misconceptions and maybe some mistruths,” Walker said, “and just wanted to get clarification.”
As proposed in the latest pending update to Winchester’s Comprehensive Plan, most of Friendship Park’s 10.6 acres at the northern end of North Pleasant Valley Road would be replaced by a two-story, age-restricted housing complex that would only admit seniors who earn 30% to 80% of the area’s median income, which the U.S. Census Bureau states is currently $28,202 per person or $58,818 per household.
City Manager Dan Hoffman told Walker that Friendship Park’s potential development is still just a concept, so additional details about the housing project won’t be fleshed out until City Council decides later this year whether to include the land-use changes in the upcoming Comprehensive Plan update.
“If you want to know how many square feet, how many units, that’s the kind of stuff that happens much further down the line,” he said.
Hoffman said a developer has expressed willingness to partner with the city on the project but did not disclose the name of the company. No contract would be be awarded until City Council votes later this year on whether to include Friendship Park’s potential development in the latest update to the Comprehensive Plan, which is a blueprint for future growth and development in Winchester.
The proposed housing project would be financed in such a way that only affordable housing could be built at that location “in perpetuity,” Hoffman said, eliminating any risk of a private developer raising the price of monthly leases once construction begins.
“It would be a 100% affordable [housing] project,” Hoffman said.
The development proposal for the park also calls for a city-operated community center to be built at the southern end of the senior housing complex. Plans for the 20,000-square-foot center and its surrounding property include an outdoor swimming pool, a soccer field and a fully accessible playground to serve children of all sensory and developmental abilities.
“It would all be open to the public, just like Jim Barnett Park,” Hoffman said. “We are looking at reduced rates for the pool.”
Currently, the city’s only public outdoor pool is in Jim Barnett Park, and the daily cost to swim there is $7 for adults, $6.50 for students and $6 for young children, seniors and members of the military. Hoffman said the rates for the new pool could be as low as $1 or $2.
“But it would be a very high-quality pool and experience,” he said.
Walker said the difference in pool prices could create the perception that Winchester’s swimming pools are segregated, with whites using the more expensive facility in Jim Barnett Park and Blacks using the less-expensive pool proposed for Friendship Park. Hoffman said that’s not the reason for the lower admission price for the proposed pool.
“Personally, I feel the amount we charge currently for [the outdoor pool in] Jim Barnett Park is too high for any family, especially if you’re a single working parent who has several kids,” Hoffman said. “Spending $20 to $25 going to the pool at Jim Barnett Park is prohibitive. ... I see it more as a correction of things rather than creating a separate situation.”
One of the Friendship Park project’s top goals, Hoffman told Walker, is to restore Winchester Parks and Recreation Department programming for children, adults and seniors who live in the city’s North End. Currently, the bulk of those programs are offered in Jim Barnett Park, located about a mile away and not in comfortable walking distance for many people.
“We’re actively looking at investments to make in the North End and that portion of town, not to create separation but really to bring it up to parity so those folks have equal access to the same amenities that the rest of the city has access to,” Hoffman said.
The Planning Commission has called a special meeting for 3 p.m. Oct. 5 but has not released an agenda for the session. If it does not issue a recommendation on the Comprehensive Plan update — including the prospective development of Friendship Park — at the special meeting, it will not consider the item again until its next regularly scheduled business meeting on Oct. 19. City Council would then hold a public hearing on the proposal before casting a final vote in November or December.
Attending Tuesday afternoon’s Winchester Planning Commission meeting in Rouss City Hall were Vice Chairwoman Lacey Burnett and members Leesa Mayfield and David Ray. Chairman Mark Loring and members John Tagnesi, Brandon Pifer and Paul Richardson were absent.