Developer Purchases Lee Mill Complex For Affordable Housing

Jan 5, 2018

A Lee, Massachusetts mill complex is one step closer to being redeveloped into affordable housing and retail space. 

Developer Jeffery Cohen has purchased Eagle Mill for $700,000 after five years negotiating with an Albany-based developer and property owner, Eagle Mill Enterprises.

“Developing in Massachusetts takes a long time, on the average: nine and a half to 10 years,” Cohen says. ”So this has been five years of coming to the right mix of what we think will be the ultimate uses on the property.”

The Eagle Mill shut down in 2008. Cohen says in all, it’s a $60-to-$70 million renovation project.

In September, he presented his proposal to Lee planners: housing, commercial retail space and a 100-room hotel. The lodging is contingent on Cohen scooping up seven residential and two commercial properties abutting the mill – six of which have been already purchased or are under contract. 

The lion’s share of the 122 apartments, which will be developed by Berkshire Housing, are designated as affordable housing, and the rest will be market rate.

The complex’s 200-year-old brick buildings are cobbled together with more modern structures from the mid-1900s. A building from 1939 and a post-World War II metal building will be demolished, and in their place a four-story apartment building with 68 units will be erected.

“In addition to that, we will have a public market – similar to Faneuil [Hall Market in Boston] and other food markets around the country – where we will have multiple restaurants and individual vendors in 10-by-10 foot stalls,” Cohen says.

In 2014, Lee received a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant totaling $115,000 from the agency’s Brownfield Grant program to support a contamination assessment of the roughly six-acre site.

“I think it’s all good and clean,” Smitty Pignatelli says.

State Representative Smitty Pignatelli is a Lenox Democrat and the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.

He says the site along the Housatonic River, with its high levels of PCBs, is a concern. GE has been working to remediate the river, which stretches to the Long Island Sound.

Eagle Mill Redevelopment’s Cohen says the firm has also partnered 50/50 with D.E.W. Construction Corp., of Williston, Vermont.

“Most people just don’t understand the process. You know, we will go through multiple political administrations: We’re already on our second governor and our second town manager,” Cohen says. “We have a constantly changing environment in which we need to manage multiple processes for financing the housing, for environmental issues, infrastructure issues. And bringing D.E.W. in, gives us the creditability to be able to say to whomever – the state or others – we can build it.”

Cohen says the project needs millions of dollars in funding. He will seek state and federal historic tax credits. The Eagle Mill is on the National Register of Historic Places. The $10.8 million value of the tax credits could be reduced by the new federal tax law.

Cohen and Pignatelli agree the project cannot move forward without an overhaul of the town’s water infrastructure. Pignatelli hopes to see some federal and state dollars fund that project.

“Not only for that site but for the downtown,” Pignatelli says. “Several years ago there was a near disastrous fire in the middle of winter. The firefighters actually had to break through the ice on the Housatonic River to put out the fire. The water pressure in the downtown of Lee is in deplorable shape.”

Lee Select Board Chairman David Consolati says this a project that can be looked at by other Berkshire County communities as a solution to housing and economic development problems.

“It’s an old mill. It has some difficulties involved in it. But it also has some beautiful features, and done in the right way I think the curiosity factor will being people in,” Consolati says.