The rezoning of two dilapidated properties on Independence Avenue in Braintree has been approved by town councilors this week after months of debate about what to do with the area.
In a meeting on Tuesday night, councilors voted 7-to-1 to affirm the rezone the 16,739- square-foot area at 7-11 Independence Ave. from a residential zoning to general business.
The move was done in an effort to kick-start a change of the property, which is blighted with old vehicles, overgrown brush, a decaying warehouse, a house, and notable ground contamination from a gasoline station that one stood in the area.
Although there are no concrete proposals on the table for what to do with the site, previous plans showed some type of large-scale residential use, which would require a general business designation. Residential zoning allows only single-family homes.
Developer Thomas Fitzgerald is said to be in line to buy the property, showing neighbors plans for a multiunit housing development, though no plans have been submitted or filed with the town.
While there are ideas of a possible development with residents, the lack of certainty over what might go in the space proved troubling to some. Thirty neighbors signed a petition requesting further information on what would definitively go in the area before a rezoning should proceed.
But Council President Chuck Kokoros said that without a rezoning, the property would remain in its poor condition and the contamination present in the soil would probably spread.
“There is always risk of any type of reward you get. For the town to get this property back online in a positive way through some sort of change, we needed to take the first step and rezone it,” Kokoros said. “It was not a decision made easily, and most members said it was a tough decision because there are uncertainties, but I felt we had to do something to move forward with this property.”
In voting on the rezoning, the council cannot stipulate that it be developed in a certain way.
Kokoros added that any type of development would require cleaning up the site. According to Kokoros, although there has not been a complete analysis of the contamination, from what engineers know now, that cost alone would most likely be in the $100,000-$250,000 range.
Additionally, $158,817 in back taxes would have to be paid on the property before any plans could move forward.
“The council did a thorough job and all the members participated greatly and asking the right questions in regards to contamination and back taxes and what could be built there,” Kokoros said. “There was a pledge by the council to stay on top of this and make sure if it’s reached a point of development, when the Planning Board hears any proposal, the council will be there to make sure they build something that benefits the neighborhood.”
Regardless, Councilor Paul “Dan” Clifford voted against the rezoning due to concerns from neighbors, who fear that many uses under the new zoning, such as a restaurant, would not fit in with the neighborhood.
While most residents were wary of the proposal, one person who lives directly across from the properties praised the change, Kokoros said.
In the past, owner Scott Palmer said he inherited the property from his father, and has done a considerable amount of work on the property, though more needs to be done.
Palmer was not immediately available for comment, but according to Kokoros, there will probably be activity at the site within the next several months.
“We do run the risk under general business zone for something else to go there that is a use by right. It appears financially there isn’t anything else they want to build there that would make it feasible to clean up the site…in order to make it worthwhile,” Kokoros said. “We have to monitor it.”