McLean To Propose Schools Building, Future R&D In Zone 4 Overlay District

Photo: The current Arlington School (Arlington School Facebook)

McLean Hospital will submit a proposal to build two buildings totaling 150,000 sq.ft. in the McLean District Zone 4 Overlay District to house an school building and research and development space.

The 11.58 acre development will be presented before the Select Board on Wednesday, June 26, and comes the day a Special Town Meeting vote to alter a traffic management and mitigation agreement the hosptial has with the town for a residential development in the district’s Zone 3.

This project would complete the build out of the 238 acres McLean set aside for development in a 1999 Memorandum of Agreement between the hosptial and Belmont.

“I have to admit I haven’t seen anything updated,” said Town Engineer Glen Clancy before a June 17 public meeting with the Select Board on changes to a traffic mitigation plan in a neighboring zone. “There may very well be something that I’m not aware of, [but] conceptually, this is pretty close.”

The proposal will see the hospital build two structures: a 90,000 sq.-ft. facility to house a relocated Arlington School, a college preparatory high school founded in 1961, and Pathways Academy, an off-site school aimed at helping students with autism spectrum disorders. In addition, a future 60,000 sq.-ft. research and development facility will join the schools, but which it has yet to attract a partner.

Clancy said McLean will seek site plan approval to develop within Zone 4 in advance of an application to the Planning Board in July. 

According to Stephen Kidder, an attorney representing McLean, the project will be a taxable development.

If the proposal sounds familiar, the hospital presented a nearly identical plan before a joint meeting of the Select and Planning boards in March 2020, within weeks of regular activity being shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The original plan has yet to receive a formal vote by town officials.

The current four-year delay was due to the hospital’s determination to move forward with the school project using philanthropic funding, which was time-consuming.”McLean is now at a point where it can go forward.”

According to Kidder, while the hospital has been interested in finding a developer for the R&D for the past two decades, despite a single inquiry in 2008, “there’s essentially been no further interest articulated.”

After 20 years of frustration attracting a research and development partner for the site, the hospital decided in 2020 to “establish a child and adolescent program on the site to deal with the incredible rise in mental health issues that are faced by children and adolescents these days,” said Hitter, a partner at Hemenway & Barnes.

Kidder noted that the town will tax both facilities as commercial property due to existing agreements between the town and the hospital.

“It’s clear any development on zones three and four is a taxable development. So even though the use would be an otherwise charitable use, and under Massachusetts state law would qualify for a tax exemption, this would be a fully taxable use because that’s the agreement that the claim made with the tenant,” said Kidder.

With the announcement made during a meeting to review changes to a traffic plan affecting Zone 3, Kidder noted, “The primary generator of traffic under this proposal for Zone 4 is the Arlington School. And that’s traffic that is already coming to the area.” With the transfer of the schools to their new site, traffic that currently takes Mill Street “will be shifted to Pleasant Street … but it is not new traffic being generated in the area.”