Monday, December 26, 2011

Blog Post No. 2011-20: Appleton Mills comes back to life... the Hamilton Canal District's redevelopment gets underway in earnest

Photo 1: Looking from Jackson Street, across the Hamilton Canal bridge.

Photo 2: Looking along Hamilton Canal from the bridge.

Photo 3: Looking back across the Appleton courtyard, toward the underpass
and bridge beyond.

Photo 4: Looking along the new street ("Street D" in the master plan).

Photo 5: Sidewalk with tree yard.

Photo 6: Looking along the Pawtucket Canal,
with former mill wall remnants.

The Location: 219 Jackson Street, Lowell, MA (LINK).

Year of Urban Fabric Restoration: 2011.

The Story: The redevelopment of the Hamilton Canal District in Lowell has been mentioned on this weblog before, albeit somewhat in passing, in the final blog post of 2009 (Blog Post No. 2009-9: Breaking with the early pattern of posts...). There, the focus was on the advance of form-based coding in New England. In this post, we come to praise the resurrection of the Appleton Mills, from its virtual demolition-by-neglect in the years after it closed as a working site for manufacturing - at one point, immediately before construction began, the floors were literally falling in on each other - to the great work done by Trinity Financial and Icon Architecture at the request of the City of Lowell to redevelop the former mill into affordable and artist housing.

Image of the Appleton Mills building (in distance) at the time of groundbreaking in 2009.
Credit: City of Lowell, MA.

As noted in the 2009 post, I worked on behalf of my law firm as the city's special counsel to help produce and ensure the consistency of the form-based code for the Hamilton Canal District with Massachusetts law. To be quite frank, it is tremendously rewarding to see the high quality of the as-restored Appleton Mills residential complex, the first phase of the redevelopment enabled by that code. The new courtyard space and the streetscape of the new street are exactly the kind of thoughtful, detailed, and satisfying exterior spaces that we should look for in every piece of new construction we do as a region and nation.

The master plan below shows that much more is to come, including further residential, commercial, and mixed-use buildings, a new courtyard area that the Appleton Mills reconstruction has already partially completed, a new public square and small park, and a multi-story parking garage with street-facing retail at the ground level. If all goes well, there is even the possibility for something near and dear to your RTUF correspondent's reformed transportation planner's heart: a link from the existing historic trolley system from the city's university and the minor league ballpark through downtown Lowell and the district to the MBTA's Lowell commuter rail station and the city's major bus terminal. The Hamilton Canal District is both a tremendous mixed-use development location on its own, with three intersecting canals and great historic architectural bones, and a critical piece of infill between the heart of Lowell's downtown and the aforementioned commuter rail/regional bus station. We will continue to check in on the district's redevelopment as new phases come on line.

Sketch of the Restored Urban Fabric: No sketch needed this time. Instead, see below and the illustrative master plan prepared by Icon Architecture for Trinity Financial, their client, and the City of Lowell. The Appleton Mills restoration shown here is actually on two parcels -- marked 6 and 7 on the master plan.

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