Underground Mall Developer Hopes To Break Ground By Spring

By: Ryan Bray

Topics: Municipal Planning and Zoning , Orleans news , Affordable housing , housing

Plans to bring housing to the site of the former Underground Mall in Orleans are moving forward, and the project’s developer hopes to break ground on the proposed 42-unit development in the spring. FILE PHOTO



ORLEANS – The developer behind a plan to bring more than 40 units of housing to the site of the former Underground Mall off Route 6A hopes to break ground on the project by spring.

With approval from the town's Old King's Highway Historic District Committee earlier this month, Chris DeSisto of Maple Hurst Builders will next bring the proposed 42-unit rental development before the Cape Cod Commission for review.

"Now hopefully we can accelerate things," DeSisto said of getting approval from the Old King's Highway panel. "It'd be great to look at a mid-spring start, but we want to do the project properly, so whatever it takes, it takes."

Plans for the project call for the 42 one- and two-bedroom rental units to be spread across six buildings, three two-and-a-half story buildings fronting Route 6A and three three-story buildings set back further on the property. Four or five of the units will be set aside as affordable rentals, DeSisto said, while the remaining units will be rented as workforce housing.

There will be 90 spaces of onsite parking, including some inside the existing mall structure. The mall's flat roof will be landscaped with grass for use as gardening space and recreation.

Maple Hurst Builders has completed many housing and mixed-use projects in and around the Boston area over the past 30 years, according to the company's website. Along with the Underground Mall, the company is also in the process of developing a mixed-use project with 20 housing units in Jamaica Plain. The company has also built single-family homes in Wellfleet and Eastham.

DeSisto bought the 3.65 acre Underground Mall parcel in July 2021 for $2.1 million. The owner is Orleans Plaza, LLC, of which DeSisto is listed as the manager.

The property's previous owner, 530 Tremont Realty Trust, proposed building a 39,000-square-foot F.W. Webb store and showroom on the site, but the plan was denied by the Old King's Highway committee in August 2020.

But DeSisto's project passed muster with the committee on Sept. 1 after some back and forth about the design. DeSisto said the committee didn't like the flat rooftops planned for the three buildings along Route 6A. Those have been redesigned to have peaked roofs more in keeping with architecture on the Cape, he said. The buildings will be designed with cedar siding and other trim details that fit the Cape Cod look, he added.

"It would have been good to clear Old King's Highway three months ago, but sometimes these things take time, and it needs to marinate with various boards," he said. "We got a positive outcome, and that's all that matters."

The project is next due limited review from the Cape Cod Commission as a development of regional impact. The commission's review will address issues including traffic and groundwater. DeSisto said he does not anticipate there will be any pushback over the project's traffic plan.

"You're coming in off a side street, so the impact there is de minimus, especially given that it used to be a mall," he said. "There used to be a lot more in and out traffic."

A low-nitrogen septic system is currently being designed for the project to help address potential questions and concerns regarding groundwater. When that is complete, DeSisto said he hopes to officially file plans with the commission by early October.

From there, the project will also require local review from the town's site plan review committee, zoning board of appeals and the board of health, which will review the septic system. The architectural review committee also gave a favorable preliminary review to the project in January.

"[The town doesn't] seem to be putting up any roadblocks and are amenable to working with us, and that's refreshing," DeSisto said.

While the project is moving forward, DeSisto said it remains to be seen how much the workforce units will rent for. The project is being independently financed without state or federal funding, and DeSisto said the cost per unit will largely be dictated by the local housing market. But he said the project's location could be instrumental in keeping rental costs lower.

"It's not a project that has a water view or that's a walk to the beach," he said. "The units will be well done but are still modest in size, one and two bedroom units, so accordingly we anticipate a modest rent. But we don't know what that number will be yet."

Email Ryan Bray at ryan@capecodchronicle.com