Last night there was a joint meeting at the Thurston Middle School cafeteria held by the Planning Board, the Board of Selectmen and the Finance and Warrant Commission to discuss the University Station Development.
While Planning Board Chairperson Jack Wiggin opened up the evening by welcoming everyone and giving a brief synopsis of what the Planning Board has been doing since June to bring the project to where it is now, it was really the developer’s show last night, as their team consisting of experts in various fields related to building a large-scale development like this took to the floor and explained different aspects of the project to the medium-sized crowd of people who turned out to listen.
The developers pointed out that much of what they are expecting to do right now is not set in stone, and that they may make minor changes here and there, but as of right now the development is 2,100,000 Sq. Ft. Of that total, 750,000 is expected to be used for retail purposes, 500,000 Sq. Ft. for offices and the remaining 850,000 Sq. Ft. would be for a hotel and housing.
One of the presenters from the developer, John Martin, spoke about what they would look to do first and build around as the project came to fruition. He spoke of the Target and Wegman’s that will move in as the two large retailers in the development and how they serve as the “anchors” of the project. The two big retailers are expected to be the first things to move into University Station.
An area of concern over the past few months has been the housing portion of the development. Some had expressed concerns over how increased housing would impact the number of children going into Westwood Public Schools, which are already over capacity. The developers estimate that there will be 750 housing units, 100 of which will be senior housing. Of the remaining 650 units, roughly half will be one-bedroom and half will be two-bedroom units. Some of them will be condominiums (they’re not sure how that will break down yet), and approximately 15% will be affordable housing.
John Connery, the person in charge of the financial impact studies and how the development affects population, etc., tried his best to put people at ease and assure them that the school system would not be affected that much. He gave estimates as to how many students would be added each year. When asked what towns he used as comparables (he used towns with other large developments), he cited Dedham, Canton, Hingham, Melrose, Needham and Newton.
Superintendent of Schools John Antonucci was present in the crowd. He was there to learn more to see how University Station would affect the Westwood Public Schools. He spoke up during the question and comment portion of the evening and started to say how the schools have done a lot of great things the last couple of years, and how you’ve probably seen them on the news.
“With all due respect, these are not comparable [towns],” Antonucci said. “We are over capacity right now. I appreciate the school department being asked to be at the table. We need to take a long, hard look before making a decision.
“50-100 kids might not sound like a lot, but I invite you to join us tomorrow right here in this room at noon when we try to squeeze in 260 kids for lunch.”
Jeffrey Dirk, the person in charge of the traffic studies and information, said that there is a combination of a “reduction in traffic and a redistribution of traffic.” He said that he’s still conducting new traffic counts and that they do have some ideas. He also mentioned the Massachusetts Department of Transportation a couple of times because of the development’s proximity to I-95/Rt. 128 and the fact that MassDOT has some plans for roadwork in that area as well. Dirk didn’t seem concerned about anything related to MassDOT; rather, he appeared to take it as something that he will just have to wait a bit longer to gather some additional information.
Connery, though, may have garnered the most interest from the crowd. He said that he would expect University Station to take seven years for it to be stabilized. This includes the time it takes to build and rents all the spaces.
“The net fiscal benefit will be extremely positive,” Connery said. “The question is when and which departments will be affected.”
Connery explained a little bit about how he compiles the information he puts together to come up with estimates for various financial or other data. His main way of figuring things out is to base it on what other comparable towns in the region have done or are doing now.
To answer one of the questions he threw out there, Connery explained that there would be a few departments that would have a little bit of an increase in costs. For example, he noted that the DPW would spend a little more money on plowing each winter.
The two largest costs, according to Connery, would be for the fire department and police departments. Connery estimated that the increase in cost would be 13-15% for the police and fire departments. He did make clear that he wouldn’t advise either department how to make changes, and that both Chiefs are the experts in those fields.
One of the things people may have heard is that there will be a Town Meeting vote in February. This is true. The vote is because of a zoning law change to the University Station property. Attorney Daniel J. Bailey III explained the zoning law, which would only apply to the 135 acres the site encompasses, at the meeting.
“Upon Town Meeting adoption, the first phase will go directly into the ground,” Bailey said.
After that, the Planning Board would have to check every time the developers wanted to go on to an additional phase. After the meeting, Bailey explained that this is pretty standard, and that it simply means if the developers ever decided they wanted to build something additional, they would have to go before the Planning Board just like anyone who ever wants to build something in town.
The meeting opened up to questions and comments from members of the Boards who were represented. There were several questions about the financial aspects of the project, one of which was regarding why the fire and police budgets would need to go up. This question came from a member of the Finance and Warrant Commission.
Connery answered this by explaining that, while he knows the Westwood Police patrol that area now, they would be patrolling it with a lot more foot traffic. He also mentioned there might be the need for more officers to direct traffic in that area, more motor vehicle accidents and certain crimes may be more likely. Similar ideas were floated about in terms of the fire department.
The next meeting related to University Station is a Planning Board Work Session to discuss the zoning bylaw. This meeting is on Monday, October 22 at 6:30 p.m. at 50 Carby St. The expected date of the Special Town Meeting is February 28, 2013 at 7:30 p.m. in the Westwood High School Gym.