Two towns join in review of new project
The planning boards and conservation commissions in Dedham and Westwood are taking the unusual step of meeting together this month to review plans for a three-story medical office building on land that straddles the two towns.
Four boards from two towns in one room on the same night is an uncommon occurrence, said Westwood economic development officer Chris McKeown. But each town believes such cooperation will save time and money, and expedite permitting for the 66,000-square-foot Shields Healthcare facility planned for Allied Drive near the Dedham Hilton at the site of a long-shuttered Teledyne building.
“The bottom line is neither town is deriving much out of that property as it is,’’ said McKeown. “It’s great that two towns can come together to get something done. Collectively, we’ll figure out where the issues conflict and figure out how to resolve them.’’
Two-thirds of the proposed project is in Dedham and the rest in Westwood, officials said. The new structure, if eventually given the nod by the four boards, will more than double the tax revenue the towns are receiving from the empty building.
That translates into a jump from $75,394 in annual tax revenue from the property for Dedham to $179,394 - and from $52,000 in annual receipts for Westwood to $109,000, according to a fiscal analysis submitted with the plan.
The property, near the East Street rotary, drew interest as recently as about five years ago when a developer considered it for a project, but walked away after being unable to resolve issues separately with the two towns’ boards, said Westwood Town Administrator Mike Jaillet.
“There is such a benefit from coordination,’’ he said. “We need to make sure we get what we want, and not drive people away.’’
To help accomplish that, Westwood has established a Flexible Use Overlay District that allows planning and zoning boards to make exceptions to the rule, when needed, to facilitate good, solid development. That could help rebuild the town’s commercial tax base, Jaillet said.
Shields first considered adding on a third story to the existing building, said Dedham Town Planner Rich McCarthy. “But it had really had its day,’’ he said of the structure.
Both the Dedham and Westwood planning boards allowed the health care concern to come in and informally present its plan, McCarthy said. He and others said the proposed building project not only boosts the municipal bottom lines of the two towns, it would also bring jobs to a depressed economy and the potential for further expansion for the company, which provides diagnostic imaging services such as MRIs and CT scans.
Steve McCarthy, director of real estate and facilities for Shields, said the development and review process is moving along exactly as the company had hoped it would. He preferred not to discuss a timeline for construction assuming necessary permits from the two communities are received.
“This is a big undertaking,’’ said McCarthy, who is not related to Rich McCarthy, the Dedham official. “We’ll take it one step at a time.’’
Westwood Town Planner Nora Loughnane said her town is excited to have the opportunity to do things a little differently. She said she is confident that the project has been sensitively designed so that the new building would be located even farther away from a small wetland area on the property’s perimeters than it already is.
Parking and traffic issues are also getting close attention, she said. Often something is lost in the translation when a number of town boards have to review a local project, she said, never mind when there are issues that span the town line.
“But we can do this if we each look at it as if it was in our own town, and handle it that way,’’ she said.
Further economies have been made by both towns agreeing to hire the same peer review consultant to direct the process, she said: “We’ll do whatever we can to make it easy, smooth, and thorough.’’
Loughnane said she expects the Planning Board to schedule a site visit after the 7:30 p.m. joint meeting on Oct. 24 at the Dedham Hilton. Then, they will probably meet one more time before taking a nonbinding vote. Officials said the conservation commission members will probably take similar action.
“When it comes down to it, it’s a win to have a sensitive development that has no effect on neighbors,’’ Loughnane said.
Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at email@example.com.