Developer Gives Briefing for Soldiers Home Rehab

Improved housing options and services for veterans are among the highlights the developer for the rehabilitation of the Chelsea Soldiers Home presented to the City Council last week.

Philadelphia-based Pennrose is the developer selected by the state’s Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM) for the major rehabilitation of the century-old soldiers home. 

The project calls for the gut rehab of the existing buildings on the site, as well as new construction resulting in an overall count of 248 units. While the existing development is composed of single room occupancy (SRO) units without kitchens and bathrooms, the development project will see all units converted to studio, one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments.

Charlie Adams, Pennrose’s regional vice president, said it is still very early in the process, but that the development team wanted to meet with the council to give an update on the project.

“We’re getting started on the project,” said Adams. “It’s something that we are excited about, and something we are just scratching the surface of how this is going to play out.”

Adams said that in addition to being the owner and developer of the property, Pennrose will also serve as the long term property manager and will be providing social services for the residents of the development. He said Pennrose has extensive experience both with developments for veterans housing, and with rehabilitating historic properties.

“We are very much in the early stages of thinking through the site and what we want to do,” said Pennrose project manager Karmen Chung.

Because of Covid-19 restrictions, Chung said no one from Pennrose had been inside the Soldiers Home buildings.

“There are a lot of services being provided to the veterans now, and we want to make sure as we transition that all the veterans continue to have the services they need,” said Chung. 

With the change from SRO units to more traditional apartments, Chung said one of the goals is making sure the veterans currently living in the home can adjust to a new lifestyle. The project will likely be done in four phases, she said, so that no veterans currently living in the Soldiers Home will be displaced because of construction.

Another one of the goals of the project is to update the services and interiors of the existing buildings while maintaining their historic quality.

“We are proposing very, very minimal demolition and we are trying to preserve almost all of the buildings on the site and adding some additions,” said Chung.

Initial plans also call for creating better landscaping and open space that can be used by the residents and the community, including creating a new plaza and converting the existing power plant into a museum and arts center.

Also proposed is a new building that could house a veterans-run cafe, and four townhouse buildings with four units each.

A veterans resource center would create a space where people can get services they need by having providers come to them, rather than the residents having to travel offsite, Chung said.

Currently, there are 129 residents at the Chelsea Soldiers Home. The total rehabilitation project calls for 20 studios, 169 one-bedrooms, 55 two-bedrooms, and four three-bedrooms.

While it is a state project, it will still require a special permit under city zoning as a planned development.

Council President Roy Avellaneda raised questions about parking and traffic associated with the project.

Chung said there has not been a traffic study done yet, but that there will be one in the works. Currently, the plans call for 171 parking spaces for the 248 units, she added.

That number falls below the number required under city zoning, and residents of the project would not be eligible for city-issued parking permits.

Chung said the developers plan on beginning the zoning process for the whole site in late spring to early summer. Initial estimates call for about 15 months of construction for each of the four planned phases of the project, she added.

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