State officials and the private developer of the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home updated the City Council on the progress of the project at a special subcommittee meeting on Monday night.
The update highlighted some potential changes from the project as originally presented for 240 studio, one-, and two-bedroom units that will be built over four phases. All the units will be affordable, with 100 percent preference given to veterans.
In addition, all 133 veterans who currently live at the soldiers home will be able to live on site during the phased construction, and will have a guaranteed unit when construction is complete.
The first phase of the construction is slated to be ready for occupancy by 2026, with all four phases of construction completed by 2029. In addition to the rehabilitation of the historic buildings on the campus, there will be a new connector building between two of the main buildings providing better accessibility, as well as the construction of 18 townhouse units on the property.
Veterans will continue to receive services from the state as the project developers Pennrose, which specializes in affordable developments for veterans, works its way through the phases. Once the project is completed, Pennrose will oversee the property management and an outside vendor, Soldier On, will be onsite to provide a wide range of services for the veterans.
During Monday night’s meetings, several city councilors expressed their concerns about the veteran residents receiving the same level of care at the newly branded Veterans’ Home in Chelsea as they currently receive.
“We want to make sure we roll this out as smoothly as possible with the current residents as well as the neighbors, because obviously it is a big project and it is a sensitive population,” said Karmen Cheung, a senior developer from Pennrose.
Cheung said there was a recent meeting with residents to go over the project and the timeline, and noted that there will continue to be quarterly meetings with the residents.
“Everyone will have a home at the Veterans Home in Chelsea, whether it is during the redevelopment or after,” said Cheung. “Our commitment with the state is to have onsite relocation even during the redevelopment of the buildings.”
Cheung said the earliest the developers are projecting anyone would have to be relocated within the campus is the fall of 2024.
The main proposed changes to the project since it was last before the council last year come at the recommendation of the National Park Service, with the elimination of additions to the Sullivan and Keville House buildings. The additional units planned for those buildings will be built on land that was originally intended as a park.
All nine buildings on the site will be preserved, and the only structure that is slated for demolition is the existing incinerator.
The headquarters building will be a veterans resource center, and the Commandant’s House will be home to the onsite property management. There are also plans for a veterans victory garden near the Commandant’s House, according to Cheung.
“The goal is to create more green space and more active and passive recreation space on the site,” she said.
Cheung also talked about how the services and resources for existing and new veteran residents would be handled.
Currently, the 123 residents live in single room occupancy units and are provided with three meals per day in addition to other resources from the state.
In the new development, all units will have their own kitchens and bathrooms, with one outside meal per day provided.
“Existing residents that live at the veterans home will continue to receive services from the Commonwealth until they move into their new affordable units as managed by Pennrose,” said Cheung. “When they move into the Pennrose development, they will be supported by property management staff, our resident service coordinator” as well as services from Soldier On.
Cheung said there will be coordination and communication between Pennrose and the state as the soldiers transition to the new units, and that the goal is to create a one-stop resource center at the headquarters building.
The affordable units will have 100 percent preference given to veterans. Since there will be larger units, there will also be some opportunities for veterans to occupy some of the units with their families.
“This is veterans housing, that’s our plan and that’s our goal … the goal is that there will be 220 veterans here, that it will be attractive enough that veterans will want to come and live here,” said Pennrose Regional Vice President Charlie Adams. “That’s why we are doing this project, because we believe in veterans’ housing.”
Councilor-at-Large Damali Vidot was among several councilors that said she was concerned about current residents losing some services, especially since the number of meals provided to the residents will drop from three to one.
Even though there will be kitchens in the units, Vidot noted that some veterans may be uncomfortable preparing their own meals, or may have special dietary restrictions.
District 1 Councilor Todd Taylor noted that the project itself will be a large and long construction project, and asked the developers not to skimp on their community outreach and construction mitigation plans for the neighborhood and the city.
Taylor also requested that the next time the developers update the council, they included representatives from Soldier On so they can provide more information on the resources and services they will provide for residents.