Photo: The municipal parking lot at Cushing Village is .. still there.
Belmont just received another lump of coal from the developer who promised 30 months ago that he would build a project that “will revitalize Cushing Square and will become a source of pride for all of Belmont.”
On Dec. 3, after repeatedly missing deadlines for five months to purchase the municipal parking lot in Cushing Square, a “contrite” Chris Starr came before the Planning Board to apologize to town officials for two-and-a-half years of delays and false starts in building the 164,000 sq.-ft. the multi-use development known as Cushing Village.
Starr told the board – which oversees the troubled project for the town – that he pledged to meet “three agreed to ‘milestones’ with the town” to begin the initial construction phase of the $63 million project consisting of 115 residential units, 38,300 sq.-ft. of retail and 225 parking space with 50 reserved for town use.
“So we are really committed to making a change in Cushing Square and getting Cushing Village done,” said Starr.
The first milestone was to purchase the deed for the lot at Trapelo and Williston roads adjacent to the Cushing Square Starbucks at a cost of $850,000 by Friday, Dec. 11.
Um, how about moving that first deadline by a week, to Dec. 18, advised Starr’s attorney Mark Donahue.
“We have frankly lost time as we … were communicating with the lenders,” said Donahue, speaking of lead banker Wells Fargo. Despite a lot of misgivings, the board and Board of Selectmen Chair Sami Baghdady felt that Starr and his team had a plan that could be met.
Present at the meeting was Tony Papantonis, president and founder of Needham-based Nauset Construction, who said the lot would be “secured” and fenced in during Christmas week with heavy machinery marshaled on the space. In fact, prep work would begin that week, said Papantonis.
But for residents who live in the nearby neighborhood, the scene is anything but busy. Twenty days after Starr made his “solid” promise to the Planning Board, the lot remains open for parking, there is no fencing at the site, and the only activity is people leaving Starbucks with a hot mocha in a red cup.
Once again, Chris Starr failed to make a “milestone” for the troubled project.
“The bottom line here is that the deadline was missed,” confirmed David Kale, town administrator on Wednesday, Dec. 23.
One neighbor, who has been following the Cushing Village saga for many years, said he has been reviewing land registry activity in Belmont and has not seen any evidence that Starr or Wells Fargo has begun the process of securing the deed for the lot.
What next? Kale said the Planning Board can request an agenda item concerning Cushing Village is included at its next meeting, “but that would be up to the board to do so.”
An email was sent to Elizabeth Allison, the current chair of the Planning Board, concerning such a request.
But it appears that a solution may come to pass before the Planning Board’s next meeting. It seems the missed deadline has less to do with a major failure on the developer’s part but rather what has cursed the project from the time Starr first initiated plans in 2008; simple incompetence.
According to sources within government circles, the lack of a signature on an important set of papers at a time when officers of the bank and development company are decamping for an extended holiday recess was the culprit.
The result is an inexcusable delay of several weeks, up until the first week in January, before the team can come together to sign off of the payment to Belmont for the municipal lot.
Three more lost weeks is but a drop in the bucket when the developer said in July 2013 the first building (on the parking lot) would welcome residents and retailers by the late fall/early winter … of 2014.