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August 22. 2013 9:26PM

Housing for seniors proposed at former Chester College

CHESTER — Dormitories at the scenic campus of the former Chester College would be converted to senior housing, according to plans unveiled Tuesday before the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

Resident Peter Smith presented the detailed plans for the first time publicly that call for converting two dormitories to house 36 two- bedroom units for seniors. The plans were presented to the board as part of a conceptual discussion, and the board listened but took no action.

The proposal would include three single-family housing lots to be sold and would leave approximately 37 acres reserved for conservation land.

“This is really a project to try to encourage a kind of community development,” Smith said.

Another phase of the plan, depending on the financial success of the first phase, would add a three-story building to accommodate 32 independent senior apartments, Smith said.

“It’s a long-term project,” Smith said after the meeting. “It’s not something that is going to happen in two to three years.”

The college closed last year after experiencing financial problems. The approximately 70-acre campus was put up for sale and is being marketed by the NAI Norwood Group of Bedford.

About three dozen entities, including other colleges and religious organizations, have expressed interest in the property. It’s listed for approximately $2.5 million. said Chris Norwood of NAI. It was only this past spring when Smith became a potential buyer that the project began to move forward, he said.

Smith would still need to get the blessing of the town before the sale could be finalized, but the group is excited by the prospect of new ownership. “Peter is going to breathe some new life in the property,” Norwood said.

Also at the meeting, board members approved five variances to allow a one-acre lot at the front of the property to be subdivided from the larger proposed sale with Smith. The lot is the site of two administration buildings for the former college.

The action clears the way for the smaller lot, that Smith couldn’t easily use, to also be sold, Norwood said.

The parcel could be used for a small retail space or possibly as an attorney’s or civil engineer’s office, he said.Previously, board members had taken a site walk of the property. Smith agreed to present the plans to give board members a better understanding of the overall project.

“They really wanted to see the broader context, as opposed to narrowly looking at one lot,” Norwood said.Representatives of TF Moran Inc. said the variances wouldn’t alter the property and would maintain its rural character.

“Right now, if you are going to pass this, you’re looking at an open lawn area with trees along the roadway,” said Jeffrey Kevan, of TF Moran. “They are looking for that rural character to be maintained.”

hunter mcgee@ newstote.com