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Belmont planners informally OK Cushing Village development size, scope

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  May 20, 2013 04:00 PM

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Legacy Smith Partner

One of the three buildings proposed for the Cushing Village project now stands at three stories tall, after developers took off the fourth due to backlash from some Belmont residents.

The Belmont Planning Board decided in a unanimous informal vote last week to move forward on a Cushing Village mixed-use development proposal after developers cut back the project's scope, square footage, and height.

The vote comes after about a year and a half of tug-of-war between the developer, Chris Starr of Smith Legacy Partners, and local residents who said the original project was too massive at its original 225,000 square feet proposal.

Starr could not be reached for comment.

However, Sami Baghdady, chairman of the Planning Board, said over the phone Monday that the vote was a "milestone" in the project's eventual approval.

"This didn’t grant a site plan approval or special permit, but it certainly got over a very sensitive aspect of the approval process," he said.

Baghdady said he thinks the developers might be able to get formal town approval in late June, and said they want to begin building this summer or fall, but did not know when the project was slated to be completed.

Baghdady said at last week's Planning Board meeting, developers agreed to keep the project, which consists of three buildings in Cushing Square with ground-level storefronts and an underground parking garage, at about 160,000 square feet - which is about 30 percent smaller than originally proposed.

The developers also agreed to keep two of the three buildings at three stories high - originally, each building would have been four stories - and also will set back one of the buildings to allow for more space within the development, Baghdady said.

Residents were concerned the project's immense scope would worsen traffic, block sunlight, and negatively redefine the character of Cushing Square, Baghdady said.

"It’s a large development by Belmont standards," he said. "Even as revised, it’s a large development."

The development's opposition frustrated developers so much that last July, Starr threatened to withdraw his application and submit a proposal under the state's affordable housing law that would take much control away from the town. However, he ended up making some concessions to the project and presented it again to the Planning Board in October.

However, Baghdady said Monday that replacing the various empty storefronts and the hole in the ground - created as contamination from a previous dry cleaning business was removed - would be better than keeping its current decrepit condition, especially considering the proposal's new smaller scale.

"This project will dramatically improve the square," he said.

The Cushing Village development proposal now calls for just over 100 residential units, with a mix of one- and two-bedroom units, and maybe some studios, Baghdady said.

The project also includes nearly 40,000 square feet for commercial space, and developers have said they wish to have a supermarket, gym, and restaurants in the storefronts, as well as relocate the Starbucks already on site into one of the new spaces, Baghdady said.

"Once they get their permit, it becomes easier to market," he said, noting that he did not think any of the tenants were finalized yet.

The underground parking garage will offer about 225 spots, with 50 spots reserved for municipal use to replace the spots lost when developers build over the current lot on site, Baghdady said. There will also be about 20 surface-level parking spaces.

The Planning Board will continue to meet with developers over the next weeks to iron out other project details and logistics. The next regularly-scheduled board meeting is Tuesday, June 11, Baghdady said.

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Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter: @jaclynreiss

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