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Lowe's site developer eyes other options; city moves on study

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  November 15, 2010 08:00 AM

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lowesguestst1.jpg

(Boston Redevelopment Authority)

A design sketch from Lowe's impact report compiled in March 2010.

A local developer seeking to build Boston's first Lowe's store on a piece of vacant, prime Brighton property has begun exploring other options for the tract after the city twice declined to approve the proposal.

Meanwhile, as announced in its most-recent denial of the store, the city is moving forward with plans for a comprehensive study on multiple development build-out scenarios for the area surrounding the prominent site along the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Plans to demolish the vacated Barry Controls and Briggs New York warehouse buildings for a 145,000-square-foot home improvement retail store and adjacent 387-space, two-floor parking lot were first presented more than three years ago.

In Sept. 2007, the proposal was denied by the city’s redevelopment authority until Lowe's completed a draft impact report. The plans were shot down again in June when the city deemed the retailer's impact report was “inadequate.” The redevelopment authority has said it will hold off on approving the store’s construction until it conducts its own comprehensive study on traffic and other neighborhood impacts.

Marathon Realty Corporation of Newton, the developer of the property at 38-40 Guest St., had scheduled a hearing last week before another city department – the zoning appeal board – which could override the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s decision. Then it rescheduled its appeal hearing to allow for more time to weigh other options.

"We were just looking for some clarification on the basis for the BRA’s decision to basically put a moratorium on the Lowe’s project,” said David Wanger, the development company’s president. “We don’t think [the BRA] followed the requirements of Article 80,” a city-coordinated, public development review process.

In response, redevelopment authority spokeswoman, Jessica Shumaker, referred to the letter the city sent to Lowe’s and the site’s developers over the summer.

“Due to the mix of outdated uses, opportunities for redevelopment in the Guest Street area should be studied in greater detail,” the letter says. It adds: “Given that the existing proposal is inadequate, we recommend that Lowe's Home Centers Inc. allow this planning study to commence with the end result coming in the form of new guidelines … We welcome a Lowe's. … However, at the Guest Street location a planning study must be complete before we permit potentially non-complementary uses and risk impairing redevelopment of other critical neighborhood sites.”

At the zoning board appeal hearing a week ago, the developer asked to reschedule its appearance before the board until mid-February, a “deferral to allow the process to play out a little more,” Wanger said.

“We’re exploring a variety of options for the site, while reserving our right to pursue this appeal” he added. “At this point, there is no point in getting into an adversarial situation with the BRA under these circumstances.”

“I’m not at all eager to engage in a legal battle with the city of Boston,” Wanger said. “We’re just looking for clarity”

The developer said his company has hired a brokerage firm to try and lease the property under its current configuration. Another option would be to convert the property into mixed-use development of housing and retail, “but that’s very much in a preliminary stage,” he said.

“We’re also engaged with community members about what they would like to see happen,” the developer said.

Though it would have been unlikely that the zoning board would have approved plans already turned down by the redevelopment authority, the developer’s president said had the zoning change been approved, the company would have attempted to move forward with the retail store plans if Lowe’s was also on board.

“We felt there was a critical mass of support for a retailer like Lowe’s,” which Wanger said has a good reputation for community involvement. “Lowe’s is not actively pursuing the Guest Street site. ... [But] I remain optimistic that if they were given the green light, they would move forward with the project.”

The North Carolina-based home-improvement giant confirmed the local development company is still under contract with Lowe’s, and said it is no longer involved in pursuing the site.

“We’re currently off the table,” said Lowe’s spokeswoman, Katie Cody. “I don’t think we have any sites on our radar” in the Boston area, she added.

When asked if the company would revisit plans to build a store there if the developer received city approval, Cody said: “I wouldn’t want to speculate, but I’m sure we’d be open to considering options like that.”

The store would be first Lowe's first in Boston. The only other big-box home improvement retailer in Boston is Home Depot’s store in Dorchester’s South Bay Center mall off Interstate 93.

Last week, the city announced it was seeking consultants to conduct a planning study in that area of Brighton.

The idea for the study was sparked by the Lowe's proposal and will aim “to analyze the mix of outdated uses and evaluate opportunities for redevelopment in the Guest Street area,” surrounding the proposed Lowe’s site, according to a summarized copy of the request for proposal (RFP).

Once chosen in February, the consultant will examine two to three alternate development build-out scenarios for the particular Brighton subarea. Officials said the city is particularly interested in ideas on how to best utilize existing surface parking lots and former light industrial buildings.

The study’s budget is capped at $120,000 and expected to take between 12 and 15 months, according to the report. The first of between five and 12 public meetings for review and input will be held in June or July.

“The consultant's ultimate goal is to produce a study that addresses the best interest of the particular neighborhood area and the City of Boston as a whole, after weighing all input and concerns,” the proposal request said.

The city’s request consists of nine tasks (listed below), which are broken up into subtasks, along with deliverables.

The impacts of each scenario will be studied, and will include recommendations for appropriate mix of uses, urban design massing, public realm improvements, traffic mitigation measures, and economic development opportunities. The scenarios, to be presented publicly with 3-D models, will evaluate the area’s existing conditions as well as potential impacts the scenarios would have on the neighborhood.

The consultant's work will be overseen by the redevelopment authority and other city departments, through the community process and by a 10-member advisory group appointed by Mayor Thomas M. Menino.

The study’s northern boundary includes the predominantly industrially-zoned properties immediately south of the MassPike. Its southern boundary is North Beacon Street and eastern boundary is the local industrial zoning sub district boundary, which runs parallel to Cambridge Street, according to the document. The western boundary will either be Market Street or may include the predominantly industrial and retail properties just west of Market Street.

“While the study will focus on this geographic area, elements of the study such as transportation, land use, and economic development have implications that will affect a wider geographic area,” the planning request says. “Therefore, stakeholders from adjacent and nearby communities will be included in the planning process.”

Below are the study’s nine key tasks the city has identified thus far:

  • TASK 1 Finalize preliminary study area boundary and determine extent of surrounding context boundary;
  • TASK 2 Inventory and assess impacts of existing economic conditions on existing land use and infrastructure as a basis for understanding existing conditions of the study area and surrounding context;
  • TASK 3 Review known transportation and land use studies and proposed development projects and factor-in pertinent recommendations andanticipated future changes;
  • TASK 4 Study growth opportunities for a mix of uses in varying combinations that can co-exist and improve upon the quality of life in the study area and surrounding context including retail, and light industrial uses (currently allowed in zoning), housing, and office uses; analyze the economic development implications of each suggested combination of uses;
  • TASK 5 Define constraints and opportunities in the immediate area for transportation, transit and infrastructure capacity;
  • TASK 6 Develop and analyze 2-3 alternate development build-out scenarios for the study area. Develop criteria for evaluating impacts and opportunities of each development scenario/combination of uses. Impacts and opportunities should be studied beyond the study area and include: Market Street to Brighton Center to the west and south, Brighton Mills north of the Turnpike, Cambridge Street to the east and south;
  • TASK 7 Assess, refine and integrate economic development impacts of each proposed mix of uses and corresponding development scenario;
  • TASK 8 Each development scenario should include an illustrative map/plan of proposed new street infrastructure, street/block scale and sizes, massing/heights, uses. This would constitute an alternative parcelization and public realm plan for the study area; and
  • TASK 9 Each development scenario must have a set of corresponding urban design/development guidelines that illustrates the massing/height/use concept.

RFP responses are due back to the city by Jan. 3.

E-mail Matt Rocheleau at mjrochele@gmail.com.

lowesguestst2.jpg

(Boston Redevelopment Authority)

A design sketch from Lowe's impact report compiled in March 2010 showing the proximity of the site to major company headquarters like WGBH and New Balance.

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