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By Robert Mills

rmills@lowellsun.com

LOWELL -- City Councilors on Tuesday voted unanimously to change the zoning of a property on Middlesex Street to allow UMass Lowell to build a new driveway for the Riverview Suites dormitory, but the proposal will still face scrutiny before the Planning Board.

The university is working with a private developer who owns the Riverview Suites dormitory at 141 Marginal St., to expand the year-old building by 16 rooms, and hopes to build an additional entrance-only driveway that would cut through a residential property at 1291 Middlesex St.

The dorm is currently home to about 510 students living in 110 apartment-style suites. There is also a fitness center, five classrooms, study and meeting space. The dorm is owned by Soho Development and leased by the university.

The expansion would not see a building constructed at 1291 Middlesex St., but since the driveway would serve the dorm, developers needed the city to change the zoning of the Middlesex Street parcel from traditional neighborhood two-family to the same institutional zone that the dorm is located in.

Abutters from Middlesex Street and nearby Livingston Avenue addressed the council during a public hearing to express concerns about the driveway impacting neighbors and causing additional traffic on Livingston Avenue.

Councilors noted that the motion before the council was just to change the zoning, though, and that the Planning Board will still be able to address traffic concerns, or even decline to approve plans for expansion, when a formal site plan is presented to that board.

"I support the zoning change, but I hope the Planning Board will take a hard look at how traffic circulates on this project," said Councilor Bill Martin.

Councilors approved the zoning change unanimously, but also unanimously passed a motion instructing the Planning Department to work with the university and abutters to address concerns about traffic as the site plans move toward approval.

The council was also scheduled to hold a public hearing on a major proposed redevelopment project off Tanner Street in the Ayers City section of the city, but concerns over that proposal prompted the council to delay the hearing.

City Councilor Rita Mercier expressed concern the plans could include an eminent domain taking of the VFW Post 662 on Plain Steet.

The proposal is a 20-year redevelopment plan that would see redevelopment of about 108 acres between the Lowell Connector and train tracks on the other side of Tanner Street. It would create about 334,000 square-feet of new development, see the creation of a greenway and two new parks, and increase tax revenues by about $1.38 million, according to the proposal.

Councilors voted to delay the public hearing on the proposal by two weeks.

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