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State gives preliminary approval to start Polaroid redevelopment

Posted by Megan McKee  March 4, 2011 09:00 AM

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Now that the state has given its draft approval for the first phase of redevelopment at the 120-acre former Polaroid site, off Route 128 in Waltham, the developer said work could begin this summer.

But developer Sam Park said that even though he's been given the blessing to forge ahead with constructing 280,000 square feet of retail and office space, he realizes the path toward his 1.28 million square-foot goal will be long.

“We fully realize that the full project we want to build needs to be reviewed by other agencies,” said Park, the principal of Sam Park & Co. But he said that the first phase holds significant employment and shopping opportunities for nearby residents.

“It's very exciting. I think we're going to see a lot of jobs very soon,” said Park.

Park said that around 500 jobs could be created through completion of the first phase, but that number is dependent on the tenants who lease space.

The state's decision was released Feb. 25 and grants a waiver to allow the project to move forward prior to the completion of a full environmental review. The public has until March 23 to submit comments and after that, the draft decision can stand, be modified, or rescinded within seven days, said Richard Sullivan, head of the state's Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

The reports will soon be published to Massachusetts' "The Environmental Monitor" web site.

In his findings, Sullivan wrote that the majority of comments from the business community, regional agencies, local residents, and Waltham officials were supportive of the project. He said the first phase's environmental impacts are insignificant and the existing infrastructure can support it.

Park said the focus in phase one will be on bringing in national retailers, of which Waltham has few.

This desire was echoed by Waltham Mayor Jeannette McCarthy, who said she wants to see four things at the Polaroid site, which has sat vacant, attracting vandalism for years: national retailers; the preservation of a 20-acre vernal pool called Berry Farm; granting a permanent easement to the portion of the Wayside Rail Trail that crosses the site; and comprehensive traffic reforms to alleviate neighborhood traffic congestion.

Park said that the company is deeding Berry Farm to the city and that transportation solutions are the primary focus in the coming months and years. Both he and the mayor are hoping state and federal transportation officials allow direct-access routes routes from Rte. 128 to the site.

But until then, local traffic will surge with an estimated 15,200 new vehicle trips on weekdays and 22,700 on the weekends.

Local resident Paul Umbrello has been watching the redevelopment plans and process over the years as it's morphed from a 1.8 million square foot redevelopment plan abandoned by the Related Cos. to its current smaller incarnation.

He has talked with Park, and said he supports the project.

“Obviously, we're concerned about the additional traffic coming through the neighborhoods,” said Umbrello. “Whether it's Sam Park & Co. or ABC & Co., whoever is going in there, anyone is within their right to build. I'd rather try and work with somebody so that it works out for everybody.”

Park said he's planning $20 million in mitigation projects up front. They're detailed in the state's decision and include Rte. 20 rotary improvements; restriping, new signage and markings, and signal adjustments along Main Street; and a transportation monitoring and management program that includes major public transportation and ridesharing initiatives.

“We're looking to do it right, and right up front,” he said.

Park said the first phase will have about 160,000 square feet of retail space and 120,000 square feet of office space.

“The initial development is a small piece,” he said. “It's all pretty much focused where the existing buildings are today.”

Some parts of those buildings will be incorporated into the new development, he said, though most of the first phase will be new construction. He said that by this time next year, the steel structure could be going up.

Park said the first phase will take about two years to finish. In the meantime, he'll be working with transportation officials to work out the larger solutions to traffic mitigation that's so desperately needed in the area of the site, as well as with local communities and government offices to assess the project's environmental impacts and come up with solutions.

When the entire project is finished, there will be about 750,000 square feet of mixed-use retail space and 500,000 square feet of office space.

Park is finishing up the 33-acre, $60 million Gloucester Crossing project. Mayor McCarthy said she talked with Gloucester's mayor and confirmed that Park is an above-board developer who works collaboratively with the communities in which he builds.

“I feel that he has not only the ability but the willingness to work with everybody,” said McCarthy.

Megan McKee can be reached at megan.mckee@gmail.com.

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