New plan in works for Westwood site
It’s looking like Lady Luck might finally grace a prime 130-plus-acre commercial property at the junction of Route 128 and Interstate 95 in Westwood, a site the town has tried for years to turn into an economic development bonanza.
Most recently, hopes were pinned on Westwood Station, a 4.5 million-square-foot, mixed-use concept that fizzled after developer Cabot, Cabot, and Forbes was unable to attain financing. Preliminary construction work that was later abandoned to prepare the sprawling site near the Route 128 Amtrak and MBTA commuter rail station has instead left a virtual wasteland.
Now, though, a new project half Westwood Station’s proposed size, by a development team that includes Westwood Station’s former partner, New England Development, has town officials excited again that their long-held dream of revenue from the property may finally come true.
The developers and town officials are in ongoing conversations, and the town’s Planning Board will next address the proposal officially at its July 10 meeting.
Town Administrator Michael Jaillet said the 2 million-square-foot proposal, to be called University Station, better suits the area and its neighbors, and at the same time would offer a needed boost to the town’s tax base.
“We are not generating anything near the commercial tax value that is the potential there,’’ Jaillet said, especially now that 17 buildings that made up the former University Avenue industrial park were razed to make way for Westwood Station.
Westwood was expecting to receive about $1.3 million annually in tax revenue had Westwood Station materialized, plus millions more in mitigation payments for public safety, roads, and schools. Town officials don’t know yet how much revenue the new development will yield, but Jaillet said, given its size, it should be roughly half of what the larger project would have paid.
“It’s very important for the community to get a development in our principal commercial area to help give us some fiscal stability,” he said.
New England Development, Eastern Development, National Development/Charles River Realty Investors, and Clarion Partners have joined forces on the project. It would include 550,000 square feet of retail space, 500 to 600 residential ownership units, 150 to 200 housing units for senior citizens, a 150- to 175-room hotel, and 300,000 to 400,000 square feet of office space.
If residents support a request for flexible zoning for the site at a special December Town Meeting, shovels could hit the ground next spring with some phases of development open for business by 2014, according to the plan and Westwood officials. The site is currently zoned for industrial uses.
The plan would include work to remove Westwood Station Boulevard, widen University Avenue to four lanes, and simplify turns near Blue Hill Avenue and Canton Street, officials said.
Traffic, storm water, fiscal, and utility studies would also be performed.
When the project was announced this spring, New England Development chairman Stephen Karp said the team looked forward to working with the town, the state, and the community to bring an exciting project to life.
Karp said many retailers who had signed on to the former Westwood Station plan, including Target and the popular Rochester, N.Y.-based grocery chain Wegmans, have expressed strong interest in the new incarnation.
“We anticipate that they will be key components of this new development,” Karp said.
Developers have said their goal is to move forward collaboratively, something officials know would avoid some of the roadblocks that occurred last time, when some residents and neighboring Canton objected strongly to the project’s size and scope, as well as to the crush of traffic on local roads it was expected to generate.
Westwood resident John Harding of Forbes Road said he hasn’t seen any details of the proposal, “but [I’m] certainly glad to hear that it is a more manageable size, which is what I thought was the problem all along.”
Harding, an attorney, and other neighbors sued the town’s Planning Board and the former developer following the issuance of a special permit for the $1.5 billion Westwood Station project. The group later reached a settlement, which they did not disclose.
Canton selectmen chairman Bob Burr also said he had not seen specifics but wants to assure residents that the town will be vigilant in ensuring that infrastructure and other aspects of the plan are adequately addressed.
Westwood’s economic development director, Chris McKeown, said he is encouraged that the signs are there for this development to succeed.
“In general, the biggest thing that people wanted was a lower-density project,’’ he said. “I think this is doable. The same issues apply: making sure the infrastructure can handle the traffic and keeping it away from neighbors.”
McKeown said the job now is to define the process and the schedule, which are inextricably linked to any plan.
“So, while the Planning Board works on the process, the developer will work on the plan, and the two things will come together over the next few months,” he said.
Jaillet, too, said he has confidence in the developers to make a strong proposal that will benefit the town and the region.
“They are very familiar with Westwood and particularly with this area,’’ Jaillet said. “They are sensitive to what the issues are and will be thoughtful as they address them.”
Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at email@example.com.