Developer Reveals Early Plans For Underground Mall

By: Ryan Bray

Topics: Development , Orleans news , Affordable housing

Chris DeSisto of Maple Hurst Builders gives an overview of preliminary plans for workforce housing at the site of the Underground Mall to the affordable housing committee Jan. 4. RYAN BRAY PHOTO

ORLEANS – The Underground Mall off Route 6A has been vacant for years. But Chris DeSisto sees parking inside the existing buildings and landscaped greenspace breaking up the expansive pavement.

More than anything, however, he sees an opportunity to provide moderately-priced housing to people in and around Orleans who need it.

DeSisto, owner of Maple Hurst Builders, presented preliminary plans for building workforce housing on the property to the affordable housing committee Jan. 4. The informational meeting marked the first time that plans for the 3.6 -parcel have been presented publicly since DeSisto bought the property in July.

The preliminary site plan shows 43 housing units built across six buildings. The buildings will each be 30 feet tall, with a 34-foot-tall area including a parapet that will accommodate onsite solar.

Three of the buildings will house one- and two-bedroom units, while the other three will feature only two-bedroom units. The 18 one-bedroom units are expected to be 700 square feet, while the 25 two-bedroom units will each be 950 square feet, DeSisto told the committee.

"This seems to fit and satisfy a big need on Cape Cod and elsewhere for quality yet modestly priced rental apartments," he said.

DeSisto said the buildings will reflect "a modern interpretation" of a Cape Cod style design using materials commonly associated with buildings in the region. When complete, the view of the existing mall from Route 6A will be obstructed by the new buildings.

"The thinking is to keep it clean and simple but also make it familiar to people living on the Cape," DeSisto said.

The existing buildings that comprise the mall will provide covered parking for 41 vehicles, according to the preliminary plan. The roof of the mall would be turned into greenspace for use for outdoor recreation, DeSisto said.

There will also be 54 outdoor parking spaces. The pavement will be broken up by areas of additional greenspace, and the property will also include a community room and an on-site management office.

In an effort to keep the project affordable for renters, the development will not include amenities such as a pool or workout facility, DeSisto said.

Efforts to develop the site, which DeSisto bought for $2.1 million, have been ongoing for several years. Most recently, the property's former owner, 530 Tremont Realty Trust, proposed building a 39,000-square-foot F.W. Webb store and showroom. The project was abandoned after it was denied a certificate of appropriateness by the Old Kings Highway Regional Historic District Committee in August 2020.

There are no plans for retail or any other mixed use on the site, DeSisto said, noting that his focus is on bringing modestly-priced workforce housing to town.

"I think we're just going to stick to apartments, do it well," he said.

The project is being independently financed and is not being planned as a 40B, but will include five affordable rental units, DeSisto said. Developments under the 40B state statute are allowed to bypass local zoning regulations if they set aside 25 percent of the project units as affordable.

"The intention is to build it, manage it and hold onto it," he said.

"I think it's very exciting that we can have private development that can create the housing that we need here," committee member Fran McClennen said.

A self-trained carpenter, DeSisto said it was the "creative" aspect of project planning and working with architects that got him into development. He is currently building a home for his family in Eastham, but said he's refocusing his work away from single-family houses to housing developments.

DeSisto said he is a frequent visitor to the Cape and has family that lives in the region.

"This is where I want to be," he said.

More specifics on the project still need to be ironed out, including how much the units will rent for and how tenants will be selected for the affordable units.

"I need to educate myself as to how best to do that process," DeSisto said.

There is also no formal timeline as of yet. DeSisto said he's willing to take the time necessary to bring the right project to the site.

"I think we've opened up a good discussion for the town," said Nancy Renn, who chairs the affordable housing committee.

DeSisto also gave a preliminary presentation to the regional historic district last week.

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