Credit: Georgina Arrieta-Ruetenik

The Needham Planning Board voted unanimously last month to approve the construction of 72 independent living apartments and the addition of a third floor to the Wingate Residences facility at 589 Highland Ave.

The units will be built at the site that formerly was home to a 142-bed skilled nursing facility that closed in April 2022. Wingate Development, LLC had previously been granted a special permit to convert the structure to a 50-unit independent living facility, utilizing the currently vacant two-story building at the corner of Highland Avenue and Gould Street, across from the former Muzi site.

The Major Project Site Plan Special Permit allows the owners to add a third floor and 22 additional units. Because the town’s zoning bylaws require at least a 10% affordable housing commitment in the Elder Services Zoning District, nine of the 72 units (or 12.5%), will be affordable.

The project was the subject of public hearings held March 7 and April 25. There was mixed public comment at both hearings. 

The plan received support from representatives of the town’s Council on Aging, which noted the paucity of available housing in Needham, especially affordable units, for downsizing seniors.

Meanwhile, a handful of neighbors, while expressing support for the addition of independent living units in Needham, voiced concerns about the impacts of a long construction process. They noted that the neighborhood is slated for multiple, large-scale construction projects for the foreseeable future.

While the Planning Board supported most aspects of the proposal, member Artie Crocker repeatedly requested a commitment to incorporating solar energy. The developers declined, citing adverse financial impact and a belief that their energy plans were sufficiently environmentally friendly. 

Wingate representative David Feldman said the new facility would provide environmental benefits as currently designed, though not derived from solar. The plans call for employing air source heat pumps and for the facility to be heated 95% by electricity. The former skilled nursing facility, by contrast, had relied 80% on natural gas.

When the members voted on the permit at its May 16 meeting, there was no consensus on whether the board even had the authority to require the use of solar. While that question of authority remained unanswered, the permit did include language requiring the building be “electrically wired so that the roof is considered ‘solar ready,’ so that photovoltaic panels can be added in the future, if desired.”

The plan calls for 41 one-bedroom units; 21 one-bedroom units with a den; seven two-bedroom units; and three studios. The building will contain approximately 81,995 square feet at completion. 

Rents for the independent living units at the existing One Wingate Way complex adjacent to the construction site range from $8,060 to $11,020 per month.

No construction schedule was disclosed.

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