Wednesday, August 4, 2021

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Planning board OKs landmark designation as precursor to mill’s conversion to apts.

Burlington’s planning and zoning commission also endorsed the bestowal of local landmark status on a now-vacant textile plant along East Webb Avenue as a prelude to its proposed conversion into apartments.

Dating back to 1906, this 115-year-old finishing plant at 741 East Webb Avenue was once part of a massive industrial complex that straddled both sides of Webb Avenue. Originally operated by the Holt family as the Aurora Cotton Mill, the plant was later acquired by Baker-Cammack Hosiery Mills, which continued to expand the facility well into the 1970s. The whole complex eventually fell into disuse in the final years of the last century as the local textile industry succumbed to overseas competition.

The Pickett Hosiery Mills building at 741 East Webb Avenue, originally built in 1906 as Aurora Cotton Mills (see historic postcard photo), would be converted into 85 to 90 apartments, under a proposal shown to Burlington’s planning board this week. The proposal still requires approval by Burlington’s city council.

In 2006, large swaths of the facility that lay west of Webb Avenue were systematically dismantled by a commercial recycling company that had purchased the property. Yet, the parts of the complex to the east of Webb Avenue have remained largely intact and have recently attracted the notice of Clachan Properties, which recently converted the May Hosiery plant in downtown Burlington into a collection of tony, loft-style apartments.

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The original May Hosiery plant, with its famous smokestack, has been made into loft apartments by the same company that now seeks an even larger restoration of the Aurora Cotton Mill along Webb Avenue.

Above and below are photos of the May Hosiery Lofts, as completed. The same company hopes to undertake a similar project at the even older Aurora Cotton Mills along East Webb Avenue.

Jamie Lawson, the city’s principal planner, informed the city’s planning board that the plans to confer local landmark status on this site have already received a nod from officials at the state level as well as the members of Burlington’s own historic preservation commission.

“Staff does not have any development application associated with the request,” Lawson added, “but has reviewed the request and finds it consistent with the comprehensive plan.”
The planning commission also heard from representatives of Clachan Properties, which has sought historic landmark status for this facility as a precursor to its proposed redevelopment for multifamily use.

Heather Fearnbach, who helped prepare Clachan’s application for local historic recognition, called in during the commission’s virtual meeting to remind its members about the property’s historical significance. Fearnbach added that her clients at Clachan ultimately plan to restore the building’s exterior to a more pristine state and to subdivide the interior to create multi-family apartments while retaining many of the “character defining features” within.

“It will be apartments much like other mill redevelopment projects in Burlington,” she added. “The developer’s plans are to move forward and have it ready within the next couple of years…and I think it would be a tremendous boon to the area to have this historically significant plant rehabilitated.”

The planning commission also heard Hugh Shytle, a partner with Clachan Properties, who acknowledged that this particular site would be transformed into 85 or 90 apartments – as opposed to the 67 at the refurbished May Hosiery plant. Shytle also insisted the converted mill along Webb Avenue would have adequate parking for tenants, which proved a bit hard to come by in the case of the May Hosiery Lofts.

Meanwhile, Molly Whitlatch, a member of the city’s historic preservation commission, also spoke up in support of this project.

“I think this type of investment from outside is going to be transformative to downtown,” Whitlatch said before the planning commission’s 5-to-0 vote to recommend this request to Burlington’s city council. “This is such an excellent example of adaptive reuse.”

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