Photo: The Cushing Village site.
The Belmont Planning Board welcomed to its Tuesday, Sept. 6 meeting the representative of the new owner of the proposed Cushing Village development with a slight caveat.
Don’t come back!
In reality, the board wasn’t so tactless or dismissive. Rather, the members explained to Bill Lovett – a senior development manager at Toll Brothers’ Apartment Living division which will develop the $80 million project that includes 115 units of rental housing, 38,000 sq.-ft. of retail and approximately 200 parking spaces – that he shouldn’t expect the board to approve any additional time extensions that would further delay the building the long-delayed project.
After the warning had been sent, the board unanimously supported Toll Brothers request to give the Pennsylvania-based home builder a seven-month extension of the Special Permit from December to July 2017.
(The issuance of the Special Permit allows a developer to begin construction on the site at the corner of Common Street and Trapelo Road in the heart of Cushing Square.)
The Planning Board’s directive is similar to the message Lovett received from the Selectmen which agreed to Toll’s request to extend the separate purchase and sale agreement of the town-owned municipal parking lot adjacent Trapelo and Williston roads.
When asked by Board member Charles Clark if Toll Brothers is likely to buy the car park site and begin construction by Dec. 31, Lovett agreed that was a possibility.
So why then, Clark pondered, is an extension of seven months for the Special Permit being required by Toll Brothers?
Lovett said while it is indeed possible that the building could commence by the end of the year, it would be an unlikely to actually commit to that timeframe because the structure’s foundation will be “complicated” to build as it sits below the ground water level and will also host the garage. Lovett said the earliest likely date for construction to begin on Cushing Village is late Spring of 2017.
And while Clark suggested providing the developer with half the number of months requested in an attempt to move the project forward, Lovett stated Toll Brothers request for the full seven months was calculated relying on the firm’s due diligence formula, adding a margin of safety for any unforeseen complications that would force a delay in construction.
A long time from the start
Clark retorted that he remembers sitting in the same room more than three years ago in 2013 approving the Special Permit. This latest delay will likely move back the completion date of Cushing Village to mid-2019.
“Six years is a long time [for a project such as this],” he commented.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the board also brought up one of the most significant issues facing developers building on older commercial sites; ground contamination.
Quired by the Planning Board’s Barbara Fiacco, Lovett said the land is contaminated to the point where it would need to be remediated. The underground garage will be built on the former site of an old dry cleaner which used organic compounds such as perchloroethylene likely seeped into the surrounding soil and groundwater.
But Lovett said while Toll Brothers doesn’t know “what exactly is going to happen … with the remediation of the soil” and that some unanticipated finds could delay the “physical construction of the site,” he said the request for a delay in the Special Permit is not due to any soil contamination.
Lovett said the provisions of the Special Permit – allowing the construction of the development to proceed with the myriad of conditions and restricts to the structure’s bulk, height, and mass which the Planning Board negotiated with the initial development team over an 18 month period of meetings and discussion – will kick in only after the building’s foundation is laid and a plan of action on cleaning out the polluted soil has been taken.
But Fiacco was not sufficiently mollified by Lovett’s explanation.
“But I still don’t have a comfort level that you’re not going to be back here asking for further extensions in light of environmental issues,” she said.
Lovett said it’s likely the soil will be removed from the site “as quickly as we can” to move forward.
“It’s in the best interest” of Toll Brothers to move forward on the site, he added.
Fiacco ended her comments by telling Lovett the firm should decide early on what remediation and construction solutions they will use rather than be reactive to any problems it may encounter.
“I want to impress on you to get all your ducks in a row … so this project can go forward, and we can see something other than a hole in the ground,” she said.