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University Station Developers Reveal Plans, Eye 2013 Start Date

Target and Wegmans are still among interested tenants, but the project will be substantially smaller in size.

It may resemble Westwood Station, but University Station will be something different for the town of Westwood.

That's what developers of are aiming for, at least.  

Representatives for New England Development and Eastern Real Estate, as well as others involved with the project, gave a brief overview of what they hope to bring to Westwood in the area of University Avenue during Tuesday night.

"We're really excited to be back here and we're looking forward to getting something done," said Steven Fischman, President of New England Development, which was originally involved in the Westwood Station proposal.

Target and Wegmans, both of which were interested in taking root at Westwood Station, remain interested tenants, developers maintained. But while the general layout of University Station will give a nostalgic nod to the failed Westwood Station project, the overall scope of the new plan will be substantially smaller in size. 

"The project is less than half the size of the original proposal," said Paul Cincotta, a project manager with New England Development, estimating that University Station will comprise only about 2 million square feet, as compared to the proposed 4 to 5 million square feet for Westwood Station. "One of the big benefits we see is it really simplifies the transportation or the roadway network."

Under the new proposal, Westwood Station Boulevard would be eliminated in an effort to simplify the overall plan and reduce an increase in traffic. Moreover, turning points near Canton Street and Blue Hill Avenue would be much simpler in design, and developers aim to widen University Avenue to include four travel lanes, two on each side of the road, in addition to new turn signals. 

The group is aiming to engage closely with the Planning Board, and aims to have support from two-thirds of the town at a special Town Meeting in December, with an ultimate goal of starting construction in the spring of 2013 to have an initial portion of the venue open by 2014.

The retail portion of the site would comprise about 550,000 square feet, while about 500 to 600 ownership residential units would take root. Adding to that, about 150 to 200 units for senior housing is planned. 

Developers also aim to include a hotel of modest size (about 150 to 175 rooms) near the residential area, as well as a "village retail" area that would comprise small shops spanning anywhere from 60,000 to 70,000 square feet. Office space is also planned, and would take up about 300,000 to 400,000 square feet.

Meanwhile, developers have been holding discussions at the state level. 

"We anticipate they're going to cooperative with some of the traffic improvements that have been done for this development," Fischman said. 

The group also committed to holding closer discussions with residents in that section of town to address traffic concerns related to the project as the proposal moves forward.

The group of developers plans to provide the Planning Board with an outline of reports needed in the project in the coming weeks, as well as discussions on zoning, text, and finally to begin providing the board with materials, explained John Twohig, an attorney with Goulstein and Stoors, serving at the zoning attorney for the project.

Developers also plan to conduct a high-quality traffic study, a storm-water study, a utility study and a fiscal/economic impact study, among others, Twohig said. 

Overall, officials were pleased with the initial discussion and said they look forward to moving forward. No formal action was taken Tuesday night, as Planning Board members stressed that it was the first time they had seen any proposal on the newly-revamped project. 

"One thing I like about the approach is the community wants to be comfortable with the plan, and so it's the content of the plan that's the important thing," said Planning Board Chair Jack Wiggin.

The board, he added, would need to become more familiar with the details of the proposal as it moves forward. Planning Board member Stephen Rafsky emphasized the need to move discussions along as early as July if the notion of holding a vote in December is to come to fruition. 

Town Administrator Mike Jaillet also weighed in Tuesday, saying he approved of the developers' approach.

"This is an extremely important aspect of this project, because it gives some surety that this thing will finally get to construction and get rid of what's there," Jaillet said. "From my perspective, the budget and the funds for the budget are extremely important. Commercial, which is what that vacant property is, is an important element of our tax base. We need to reinvigorate our commercial base. We need to do it soon. The approach they're planning to take is, I think, the appropriate approach."

The Planning Board will discuss the developers' intial proposal at its next meeting on June 19 at the Carby Street Municipal Building.

Joanie M June 13, 2012 at 11:20 AM
Nice to see the project is smaller. However, 800 housing units - a mix of owner occupied and rental- is far too many. There is a nice new senior component but what would draw seniors to this area? It is basically a pretty retail strip with very little green space. Would seniors come? I hope the planning board looks at area developments such as Jefferson Place and really looks deeply at how these developments have impacted the towns where they are. Look at the number of students in the school systems and crime. What about the condos at the Natick Collection? Hopefully this project will scale down the number of housing units. We do not need all that housing. Do we need something there? Absolutely! Should it be smaller than the earlier proposed Westwood Station? Definitely! Is 800+ units a nice compromise? ABSOLUTELY NOT!
Margaret Carr June 13, 2012 at 06:19 PM
I agree that it will a welcome change to the shambles that the area is now in. However, I think it's way too many housing units. The Westwood schools are now at capacity not to mention police and fire. I hope that a new fire station substation is built in the area that could service the Canton Street area as well as this new development. This should come out of developer funding. In addition, improvements to the schools should also be anticipated to accomodate the new students that will surely be added with these new units. Yes, they may be targeting a market that doesn't bring in a lot of children, but this isn't a given. There should be language in the agreement that states if a certain range in number of children are brought in, the developer has to provide a $ amount to the school system for enhancements to school buildings and teachers.
WW Resident June 14, 2012 at 01:00 PM
Can the town/residents tell the developer to exclude residential units from their plans? Sounds like it's a mixed response about having University Station for retail/offices, but a majority no to this devleopment including residences. And since the first developer bribed us with new/overhauled athletic fields, why not negotiate for an ice rink? The high school and youth hockey programs desperately need a rink, and there doesn't appear to be space (let alone capital spending) available near the middle and high schools. Renting out the facility to neighboring towns, leagues, and school systems would help offset the operating expenses of a hockey rink.
Joanie M June 14, 2012 at 02:49 PM
I would love to see other things added of value to the town such as fields, rinks etc but this in its initial stage does not have that. The funny thing is it looks like the footprint size is the same as Westwood Station but they are saying it is half the size. I was reading recently where Sudbury put in housing and now their school system is taxed, the seniors are moving out and the taxes are going up. I hope the town researches surrounding developments before passing this project.
K June 14, 2012 at 05:14 PM
I agree with Joanie, I would love to see a skating rink. As for the housing, that is way to much residential housing. No need for 500 to 600 units. How will this effect the schools?
Arthur June 14, 2012 at 05:50 PM
The original Westwood Station proposal, as described by Planning Board member Steve Rafsky when seeking Town Meeting support, was for a 'Newbury Street like' development with 'nice restaurants and small shops'. Ultimately the approved WW Station project was FAR from Newbury St like. This smaller proposal is an improvement but is still too large and seems designed primarily for big box stores, housing and office space. Not really in keeping with the rest of WW. Greed killed the WW Station proposal. Hopefully town officials have learned a lesson.
Janis Urbanek June 15, 2012 at 03:15 PM
As I've attended many past meetings since 2005 and was at Monday's meeting to unveil the new plan for University Station, I was pleased to see fellow residents receptive to progress. The new project utilizes only a portion of the "mixed use" land which is destined for development at some point. It's been a wasteland far too long. Senior housing can be for age 55+, a demographic that's on the rise. As a longtime Westwood resident and Realtor, I hear from homeowners who would downsize, sell their house and move into the smaller condo units or rental apartment at University Station rather than having to move out of town. Legacy Place is fabulous, thriving, a favorite spot for many Westwood residents. Wegmans and Target will be the only two anchor stores that I saw on the plan - both desirable in my opinion. So let's continue to watch and listen for input. All of our questions about impact on schools, traffic and our town's overdue need to develop this property are being addressed.
S Rodig June 16, 2012 at 05:20 PM
I agree that it is good to see that a development project is now moving forward. The university station area is obviously underutilized and in a prime location. Scaling down on the original (ambitious) westwood station plan also makes sense. However if we are to look over at Dedham, Legacy place has certainly been a success, but how about the extensive condo units located behind the shopping area? Has this been a success for the town? 800+ units is much too many, in my opinion. With that size, the influx of new residents will likely tax the existing school system, perhaps necessitate the construction of additional schools, in addition to an increase in police, fire, ect. We all agree that University station needs to be developed, but increasing population with only modest commercial enterprise is not likely to ease the tax burden that all are hoping for.
sean June 23, 2012 at 01:40 AM
500 housing units? I think westwood should be renamed as new dedham.
Janis Urbanek June 23, 2012 at 02:36 AM
Interestingly, Westwood was "West Dedham" before becoming Westwood. Dedham has rental apartments, not condos for purchase, adjacent to Legacy Place. So let's see how the consumer demand for the first phase of condominium homes for sale in Westwood will appeal to local residents to benefit rather than detract from our community.
sean June 23, 2012 at 02:50 AM
unfortunately, dedham had its good days. demand and supply is not the problem here. when it becomes a problem, we are the problem.
sean June 23, 2012 at 03:27 AM
according to wiki, the number of households in westwood is slightly above 5000. 500 new units roughly increases the population of the town by close to 10 percent, with a strong concentration of people in certain ages(20 to45). in most times of the year, there are less than 100 houses on the market. seniors want to sell their houses to move into your new condos? good luck! i hope you can still afford your new condos.
Rob June 24, 2012 at 01:33 AM
I do not understand why residential units should be a part of the development project. Westwood needs a larger commercial tax base that would help pay for our schools not condominium units that have the potential of adding up to two or three children per unit to our school population while paying little in property taxes based on the lower property values of the units. Our seniors will be crowded out by families wiith children who will pay far more more for the units to gain access to our schools than seniors would be willing to pay. The development should consist of retail and office space only.
Janis Urbanek June 24, 2012 at 02:33 AM
Attending the public meetings will clarify the plans and answer all of these concerns. Housing demand near the commuter rail is the key to this development. Seniors are the age of "55+ " citizens who represent nearly half of Westwood's population and a number have indicated they would enjoy a move to smaller condo units in our town (rather than having to relocate) as incoming families opt for their single-family homes.
sean June 24, 2012 at 04:20 AM
dumping so many houses in such a short time frame would have consequences. people who wish to sell in 5 to 10 years time frame might have to settle for less. it is simple supply and demand. our seniors, despite their loyalty to our town, might not get what they want. targeting filthy rich commuters who don't wish to use ammenties of our town is a great wish, one of the best. since they don't care about those issues, then university station might not be able to command premium when competing with dedham and norwood. this is not true for locals, who are willing to pay more to get into westwood. dynamics of competition would choose route of least resistance. your grand wish, might just be a wish, like those of Laurence Yun and David Lear.
paula from Westwood June 25, 2012 at 11:21 AM
Some of these rental units replaced inner city housing that was demolished and families were relocated to this location.
stubmytoe June 25, 2012 at 05:17 PM
Im glad people are solely focused on the schools. Since when have you seen 3 kids living in a condo in westwood? please
sean June 25, 2012 at 06:20 PM
How many condos do we have in Westwood? If you didn't see a lot yet, don't worry. The devlopers are shooting for the end of next year. Westwood public school spends roughly $13900 per student. http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/state_report/ppx.aspx This project presumbably would bring in 1.3 million dollar in tax for town each year. The math doesn't add up.
paula from Westwood June 25, 2012 at 07:19 PM
We have bunk beds so we can sleep four to a room.
WW Resident September 14, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Any updates on this topic?
K January 19, 2013 at 02:03 AM
Stubmytoe-just because you haven't seen three kids living in a condo in Westwood doesn't mean it won't happen. I would do it if I couldn't afford a house in the town. Stay as long as my kids got a good education. People like myself overpaid for a house just to get into the schools. Could have had an amazing house in Dedham or Norwood for less. People will do anything for their kids.

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