Store’s size not an issue, city says
Route 9 work can handle Wegmans
The new Wegmans grocery store on track to open on Route 9 in Newton is about a third larger than what aldermen initially permitted a year ago, but city officials said the increase is unlikely to further burden traffic and parking in the already congested corridor.
The trendy specialty food chain announced last week that it will place its third Massachusetts location in Newton’s Chestnut Hill Square project. The nearly 70,000-square-foot store, with a targeted 2013 opening date, will have a market cafe and the chain’s trademark selection of prepared foods.
Wegmans will anchor Chestnut Hill Square, site of the former Omni Foods Supermarkets, where construction crews are laying the groundwork for a project that will include shops, medical offices, and residences.
New England Development, which is building the complex, is spending about $14 million on infrastructure improvements, said Candace Havens, Newton’s planning director.
Those improvements, such as widening approaching roads and adding traffic lights, should more than accommodate Chestnut Hill Square and the larger Wegmans, Havens said.
“The upshot is that they’re increasing the capacity of the roadway,’’ Havens said. “This will be a very nice improvement that will serve the region.’’
Wegmans opened a Northborough store in October, and is scheduled to open a market in Burlington in 2013.
When the Newton Board of Aldermen approved a special permit for Chestnut Hill Square last December, the developer said the project’s grocery store would be about 50,000 square feet.
But earlier this fall, New England Development approached the city about a larger store. City staff approved the increase, Havens said.
The Board of Aldermen included a condition in its initial permit that allowed for changes to the project, as long as they didn’t trigger an environmental review, decrease the open space, or require special consideration of parking or other special permits, Havens explained in an e-mail. Those criteria were met, Havens said.
The developer also moved forward plans to build a 392-space parking garage to meet the anticipated increase in customers for Wegmans, said Alderwoman Ruthanne Fuller.
New England Development had expected to build the additional parking spots in the second phase of the project, she said. Now, that four-story garage will open earlier.
Fuller has asked the city’s planning staff to recalculate the number of expected vehicle trips during peak and nonpeak hours to make sure the impact of the larger store will be minimal.
A 50,000-square-foot grocery store was expected to generate about 5,300 average daily weekday trips, and 9,200 trips on Saturdays, according to a traffic study done last year.
As of Thursday, Newton officials were still working on updating those numbers for the larger store.
However, much of the additional space in Wegmans will be for storage and food preparation, and unlikely to generate a big bump in traffic, Havens said.
Traffic concerns along the Newton and Brookline stretch of Route 9 have dogged the Chestnut Hill Square project for years, with Brookline at one point threatening to close a street behind the property.
New England Development has scaled down the size of its project significantly from the first proposal nearly a decade ago, and has promised to allow only the Fire Department to have access from the back streets.
Still, some of those traffic worries have bubbled back up with the announcement that Wegmans, a wildly popular chain elsewhere in the country, would be the main tenant.
“I’m excited about Wegmans,’’ said Carla Benka, who lives in Brookline and is a member of the Chestnut Hill Neighborhood Association. “I just wish it wasn’t moving to that location.’’
Route 9 is already clogged by shoppers and drivers trying to avoid the Mass. Turnpike tolls, and it will likely get busier when Wegmans opens, Benka said.
Douglass Karp, the executive vice president of Chestnut Hill-based New England Development, said he expects the road improvements will satisfy the area’s traffic needs.
The company plans to widen Route 9 to three lanes in each direction approaching the site. New England Development will also install new traffic lights and a median break on Route 9 in front of the project that will allow westbound drivers to turn left into Chestnut Hill Square.
Between $10 million to $12 million of road improvements will likely be paid for with state bonds. Increases in sales tax revenue from the project will help pay off the state debt, Karp said.
Wegmans wouldn’t have decided to move into the space if customers couldn’t get there, Karp said.
“They’re a great retailer, and Wegmans analyzed it to see if it would work for them,’’ he said.
New England Development’s road improvements are likely to be some of the most extensive planned for the Newton portion of Route 9, said Michael Verseckes, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.
The agency is repaving the Newton stretch of Route 9 at a cost of about $4 million, Verseckes said.
The Newton Wegmans will be smaller than the chain’s other two Massachusetts locations, and may not draw as much traffic in the long term, Verseckes said.
But during those first opening weeks, Route 9 will likely be busy, he said.
Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@ globe.com