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Tenants are moving into former air base

After years of delays, SouthField is taking shape

A nearly finished building at the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station’s first residential neighborhood, dubbed SouthField Highlands. At left, people braved the rain to watch the last aircraft hangar be demolished. A nearly finished building at the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station’s first residential neighborhood, dubbed SouthField Highlands. At left, people braved the rain to watch the last aircraft hangar be demolished. (Debee Tlumacki for the Boston Globe)
By Emily Sweeney
Globe Staff / April 5, 2012
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WEYMOUTH - Construction workers are putting the finishing touches on the first apartments to be built on the property formerly known as South Weymouth Naval Air Station.

A beige-and-brick apartment building now stands on what was once a runway where military planes took off and landed, and the first renters have moved in. Across the way, a gigantic aircraft hangar is being taken apart, piece by piece. Nearby, two other builders have put up their first batch of single-family houses and town houses.

After years of delays, the new buildings that have sprouted up in recent months are a welcome sight to LNR Property Corp., the company redeveloping the long decommissioned air base, and South Shore Tri-Town Development Corp., the agency that serves as the local governing authority of the property, now called SouthField.

Of the residents who have moved into SouthField’s first neighborhood, dubbed SouthField Highlands, 24 are in the single-family homes while 10 tenants have moved into the apartments. More are on the way.

The apartment complex - the Commons at SouthField Highlands - will eventually contain 226 units spread over three buildings. The second building is scheduled to be completed June 1, and the third building should be ready by Aug. 1, according to John M. Corcoran and Co., the Braintree-based developer of the Commons.

The complex is located on Trotter Road, about one-third of a mile from the MBTA commuter rail station - a key selling point for this so-called smart growth project.

Outside the apartment building, a common area features an outdoor saltwater swimming pool - the leasing agents say saltwater is less irritating to skin and eyes than chlorine - and a stone patio deck with a built-in poolside grill. The ground floor features space for retail shops.

Inside, the place looks like a boutique hotel.

Framed artworks hang on the walls in the hallways. In the main lobby, there’s a WiFi cafe where residents can brew coffee and use stainless-steel kitchen appliances to make snacks, and they can chill out with their friends on a sleek, curved couch in front of a widescreen flat-panel TV and fireplace. Beyond the spacious common kitchen in the cafe is a game room with a 64-inch television, Sony PlayStation 3, and a poker card table. Down the hall, there’s a sun-filled, 1,130-square-foot fitness center with treadmills and elliptical machines that have built-in TV screens and Internet access, as well as USB outlets and iPod plugs.

For now, the apartments face an expanse of open land that provides a clear view of the old military hangar, which is in the process of being torn down. Once it’s gone, the space will be taken up by a four-lane parkway.

The hangar has long been one of the most visible landmarks on the property, a leftover structure and visual reminder of its former life as a military base. When the facility first opened in 1942, it served as a base for blimps that patrolled the Atlantic shores during World War II. It was later used as an air station until it closed in 1997. The following year, state lawmakers established the South Shore Tri-Town Development Corp. to oversee its redevelopment. The agency chose LNR to serve as master developer of the project in 2003.

Neighbors in the towns of Weymouth, Rockland, and Abington have been waiting warily for the massive construction project to get underway. While many welcome the influx of construction jobs and growth in the local tax base, some say they are concerned about the huge community sprouting up in their backyards and its inevitable impact on municipal services.

Dominic J. Galluzzo, a Weymouth resident and member of a local watchdog group called Advocates of Rockland, Abington, Weymouth and Hingham, questioned where SouthField would get all the water it needs in the future. He says he doesn’t want his town subsidizing municipal services for the development.

“Guess what keeps the grass green in SouthField,’’ quipped Galluzzo. “Our drinking water.’’

South Shore Tri-Town has said it currently buys water from Weymouth but in the future may look to Rockland or Abington for further water agreements, or try to establish a connection to the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority.

At full build-out, SouthField will include 2,850 homes, 2 million square feet of office and commercial space, and a sports complex with an 18-hole golf course, ice skating rink, tennis courts, turf fields, and an indoor athletic facility.

But an initial plan to build a movie studio complex on the site appears to have stalled. The SouthField website (www.southfield.com) no longer highlights the movie studio proposal, and LNR referred all questions about that plan to Allan Kassirer of International Studio Group, based in Los Angeles. He declined comment when reached by phone.

Developers currently have permits to construct up to 500 units of housing at SouthField Highlands. All 500 are being built by south-of-Boston developers: In addition to Corcoran’s apartments, Whitman Homes Inc. of Canton is building 13 town houses and 11 single-family homes; Hingham-based Interactive Building Group Inc. is building 34 town houses; and William B. Rice Eventide Home in Quincy and Rogerson Communities have teamed up to create 216 apartments for seniors.

The East-West Parkway - a four-lane boulevard that will provide access to Route 18 to Route 3, two roads important to commuters - is scheduled to be finished by September, according to Kevin R. Donovan, South Shore Tri-Town’s chief executive officer.

Donovan said he’s happy to see the progress made on the former base thus far. Although lagging behind the developer’s original timelines, the project has managed to survive the financial downturn and continues to move forward despite the shaky economy.

“I’m ecstatic,’’ said Donovan. “It’s coming right along. It’s a testament to the whole reuse plan [for the base], and shows that when everyone works together, things can really happen.’’

Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.

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