Photo: Developer Chris Starr (photo 2012)
Apologetic and contrite, Chris Starr stood before the Belmont Planning Board and said he was sorry.
“I can’t begin to tell you how much each of these delays really impacts me,” said Starr.
“I’ve seen the frustration of people in Cushing Square, and I’ve seen the residents and the business owners … and I certainly empathize with what they are going through right now. And I share that frustration,” said Starr.
Starr, who in 2010 sued each member of the Belmont Board of Selectmen and threatened in 2012 to develop a 40B housing development if the Planning Board would not move on the development, was penitent at the Dec. 3 meeting as he sought for the third time in the past four months either an extension or modifications to the proposed project that was approved nearly 30 months before.
“I want first to start off by apologizing for having to come back for yet another request. We are deeply sorry to do this … the simple fact is that there were some lender requirements that needed to address.
The Planning Board approved Thursday night the three “modifications” to a one-year extension to the special permit granted in July 2013 passing Starr’s Smith Legacy Partners to obtain the town permits to construct the residential/commercial/parking complex running from Belmont and Common streets onto Trapelo to Winston roads.
The two-and-a-half year delay in construction was due in large part in the difficulty in securing a primary lender who would assume the risk in a project led by an inexperienced developer.
Starr also announced Thursday that he is now to meet three agreed to “milestones” with the town to begin the initial construction phase of the project.
“So we are really committed to making a change in Cushing Square and getting Cushing Village done,” said Starr.
The three strict milestones with deadlines as part of the agreement:
- The developers must close on the deed for the municipal parking lot at a cost of $850,000 by Friday, Dec. 11,
- Begin initial demolition on Friday, Jan. 15, 2016, and
- Seek a building foundation permit from the town by Monday, Feb. 1, 2016.
One of the modifications deals directly with the very first milestone, delaying the Dec. 11 closing of the sale of the municipal parking lot adjacent Trapelo Road by a week.
Starr said he and his family is “committed to closing on the 18th” ending by thanking the Planning Board for “your understanding, your patience and I’m sure it won’t go unrewarded.”
Mark Donahue, the Smith Legacy attorney, outlined the modifications that he noted was being required by Wells Fargo, the developer’s lead lender who will commit $15 million at the start of the project.
The first is a “force majeure” provision that allows the three milestones will be extended in the event of an extraordinary incident; relating to acts of God and not mere neglect or if the developer seeks a better deal.
The second is what Donahue called “the lender saving provision” where the milestone dates are set aside if the lender exercises its rights of taking control of the property if it is determined the developer fails to meet his obligation to the bank. The lender, Wells Fargo, will then have the ability to negotiate a sale or a new deal with the town within the one-year extension, preventing the project from falling into “a black hole.”
The benefit of the second alteration is it “reassures the town” the project will be ultimately completed, with or without Starr at the helm, said Donahue.
“This is not to suggest in any fashion that the developer is walking away from these milestones,” said Donahue.
The third is the delay by a week of the first milestone.
“We have frankly lost time as we … were communicating with the lenders,” said Donahue.
The new additions, said Belmont Selectman Chair Sami Baghdady, will be beneficial to Belmont as it will allow the development to move forward whoever is in control of the project.
Saying that “we’re all frustrated to be here again” Baghdady said when looking at the development “in the bigger picture, we have to say to ourselves, ‘OK, what’s best for Belmont?'”
None of the proposed language affects the one-year extension “and it’s still ticking,” said Baghdady. If the developer misses any of the milestone conditions, “we don’t want the special permit to terminate. We do want the lender to have the opportunity to come in, secure the project, take it over, finish the construction, cure, remedy and proceed.”
“We don’t want a hole in the ground … and if this developer can’t make it continue, it is good for Belmont to have some else move in and move this project forward,” he said.
Cushing Village, at 164,000 sq.-ft. encompassing three buildings and two town blocks, would be the largest development in Belmont in recent memory. When completed in 18 months, the $63 million project will include 115 residential units, 38,000 sq.-ft. of retail spaces and underground parking that includes 50 municipal spaces.
After the closing, the public will see heavy equipment come to the municipal parking lot, the first building site, a few days later as the lot will be closed for the final time on Christmas week, according to Tony Papantonis, president and founder of Needham-based Nauset Construction.
Demolition of the S.S. Pierce building (at the corner of Common and Trapelo) and the former CVS building at Common and Belmont would then begin as well as prep work on the municipal lot within two weeks, in the first weeks of January 2016.