Cushing Village Update: Municipal Lot Closed To Public Wednesday

Photo: From parking lot to construction site.

In the first tangible indication construction on the long delayed Cushing Village development is about to commence, signs notified the public the municipal parking lot adjacent Starbucks was official closed to vehicles.

“THIS PARKING LOT Located on the corner of TRAPELO ROAD and WILLISTON ROAD WILL BE CLOSED EFFECTIVE JANUARY 18th, 2017” read several signs in the near empty lot.


At the Williston Road entry, another sign said “Construction Entrance Only” and “Lot Closed 1/18/17,” placed by Nauset Construction, the Needham-base constructon management firm hired by the project’s national developer, Toll Brothers. 

Toll Brothers officially took possession of the town-owned lot on Oct. 19, 2016 after purchasing the parcel for $1.335 million, according to town records.

Despite assurances the lot would be closed within days of the sale, it would take three additional months for the Pennylvania-based Apartment Living subsidiary to secure the first of several permits from the town and state’s environmental protection agency to allow construction to precede and to finalize a long-term lease with Starbucks to secure a space in the project.

Cushing Villiage is a 165,000 square foot, three building development with approximately 38,000 square feet of commercial space, 115 apartments – 60 two-bedroom units and 55 one-bedroom units – and 225 parking spaces including 50 municipal spaces.

Bill Lovett, a senior development manager at Toll Brothers’ Apartment Living, said in August the earliest date for construction to begin on Cushing Village is late spring of 2017 with a completion date of the summer of 2019.

BREAKING: Another Delay for Cushing Village; Now It’s Starbucks Missing Lease

Photo: Starbucks lack of a lease causes another delay. 

After a contentious meeting Friday morning, it appears Belmont town officials would rather the corporate suits at Starbucks’ Seattle headquarters switch from drinking the decaf Caffè Lattes to the high power Clover Brewed Coffee with espresso shots when they are closing real estate deals.

On what should have been a historic day for Belmont and the future of the troubled 167,000 sq.-ft. Cushing Village project turned into a frustrating case of deja vu as the Belmont Board of Selectmen approved Friday, Sept. 30 to push back by three weeks the closing date of the sale of the municipal parking lot adjacent Trapelo Road.

Initially, the town expected developer Pennsylvania-based Toll Brothers to execute the purchase and sale of the lot with a check ($1 million less any credits to the company) heading into town coffers. But it became apparent after returning from an executive session on Sept. 20, the selectmen had little choice but move the expiration date for the final closing to Friday, Oct. 21. 

Bu unlike past issues, it was not actions by the developer, Toll Brothers, nor the town necessitating the delay. In fact, they have been ready to “seal the deal” days earlier. Rather it is officials at one of the leading retail corporations worldwide who are dragging their feet much like many of their Monday morning customers. 

According to Belmont’s Town Counsel George Hall, the delay is due to a lack of a new lease from Starbucks corporate headquarters that spells out a multiyear agreement between Toll and the coffee giant on yearly payments and the location of the cafe. It will also spell out what financial compensation Toll would provide Starbucks if at any point the store would be forced to shut down during construction.

Hall said the lease “is also integral to the transaction between Toll and the former developer Smith Legacy Partners” which still owns four parcels – including the old S.S. Pierce and A&P/CVS locations – that will make up most of the project’s footprint. 

Since Toll can not move forward with knowledge of the primary tenant, the closing has been held hostage to Starbucks’ inaction. 

“Starbucks is a very large company with many sites … and they move on their own schedule,” said Hall, suspecting the new lease will arrive “hopefully in a few business days but we have no controls over the parties.” 

With all the paperwork complete, deeds ready to be passed and funds transferred a compromise called an “escrow closing” has been agreed to between the town and Toll Brothers. 

Much like a standard real estate closing, all the relative signed documents – including the town’s land development agreement and the deeds to the four parcels currently held by Smith Legacy – and the several payments dated for Friday will be delivered by 5 p.m. to a Westborough attorney who is the escrow agent.

“The agent is ready to go to the Registry of Deeds to record the documents and disburse the funds as soon as he’s given the go-ahead to do so once Toll when it takes the property of the new lease,” said Hall.

“All parties will have to agree for this escrow to move forward,” he said. 

Not that everyone was enthralled with the last-minute arrangement.

“Of course this is frustrating because we’d like to know that by the end of today the funds would have been into our account,” said Selectmen Vice Chair Sami Baghdady. 

While he would be more comfortable if Toll committed “hard money” into Belmont’s bank account, said Baghdady, “but I feel we have made a leap and it would be a shame if we did not support this deal and risk Cushing Square being in its current condition for eight or ten years [until it is] redeveloped.”

Cushing Square MuniParking Lot Closes Sept. 29

Photo: Surveying equipment at the municipal lot in Cushing Square.

The first concrete step in the construction of Cushing Village takes place next week as the municipal parking lot at Trapelo and Williston roads will close temporarily on Thursday, Sept. 29.

The closure comes a day before Toll Brothers is scheduled to execute a purchase and sales agreement for the parcel of land adjacent to Starbucks. Even before next week’s events take place, engineers and surveyors have been seen in the lot making measurements and preparing for the building of fencing.

With the closure, Cushing Square-area businesses can purchase monthly parking passes from the Belmont Police for access to the Cushing Square parking lot. During the time the municipal parking lot is closed, permit holders will be allowed to park in the Cushing Square area free from time restrictions on parking with the exception of the following roadways:

  • Trapelo Road
  • Horne Road
  • Common Street

The Belmont Police will work closely with monthly pass holders and neighbors to minimize the impact that additional parked vehicles will have on the neighborhood. A similar plan was successfully put in place during the reconstruction of the Waverly Square municipal parking lot during the renovation of the Trapelo Road/Belmont Street Corredor.

Residents who have questions regarding enforcement should call:

Belmont Police Traffic Sergeant Ben Mailhot at 617-993-2538.

All other questions should be directed to the Town Administrator’s office at 617-993-2610.

Toll Bros. Agrees to Parking Lot Sale Sept. 30; Cushing Village Under Way

Photo: Cushing Village.

If you were not listening for it, the announcement would have quietly passed by without much notice.

But the news from the Board of Selectmen on Monday, Sept. 19, that national developer Toll Brothers will sign the purchase and sale agreement to obtain the municipal parking lot adjacent Trapelo and Williston roads on Sept. 30, has brought to an effective end more than three years of delays and controversey that has haunted Cushing Village, the 164,000 sq.-ft. apartment/retail/parking complex set to be built in the heart of Belmont’s Cushing Square.

After a brief unceremonial signing of the documents by the selectmen concerning easement rights and updated land and parking agreements, the town will wait for a check for reportedly $1 million while Toll will soon retain the deed to the property, said Town Consel George Hall. 

“This is the light at the end of the tunnel we have been waiting for,” said Belmont Selectmen Chair Mark Paolillo.

There was no representative at the signing from Toll Brothers’ Apartment Living subsidiary that will construct and own the property for the Horsham, Penn.-based firm.

It is believed demolition of the existing structures on the site – the former S.S. Pierce & Co. building at the corner of Common and Trapelo and the First National/CVS at Common and Belmont – will proceed within the next two months. Speculation is that Starbucks, which is adjacent to the parking lot and is a key tenant for the new complex, will continue to operate at its location for the time being. 

Bill Lovett, a senior development manager at Toll Brothers’ Apartment Living, said in August the earliest date for construction to begin on Cushing Village is late spring of 2017 with a completion date of the summer of 2019.

The development consists of three separate buildings with approximately 38,000 square feet of commercial space, 115 dwellings units – 60 two-bedroom units and 55 one-bedroom unit – and 225 parking spaces including 50 municipal spaces provided as a result of the sale of the municipal parking lot.  The development will also include 12 affordable housing units.

After more than two-and-a-half years of delays and broken promises to begin construction, the long-troubled multiuse development was sold in March to Toll Brothers which purchase of the project’s development rights and two land parcels from the original owner, Smith Legacy Partners.

It was Smith Legacy which shepherd the project through an 18-month permiting process, winning the right to build the complex in July 2013. But a failure to find the necessary funding doomed the project for the owner.

Planning Board OKs Cushing Village Construction Extension

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.

Toll Partners With Former Owner To Lease Cushing Village’s Retail Space

Photo: Bill Lovett,  a senior development manager at Toll’s Apartment Living, before the Board of Selectmen.

It wasn’t the one-month extension the town gave Toll Brothers to close on the municipal parking lot adjacent Trapelo Road critical to the building of the long-delayed Cushing Village project that created the big buzz at the Belmont Board of Selectmen meeting on Monday, Aug. 22.

It was who the new developer is partnering with on a significant feature of the $80 million project that was a total surprise to the nearly dozen residents who sacrificed a beautiful summer evening to attend the meeting at Belmont’s Town Hall.

Chris Starr, the Bedford resident who spent almost a decade of his life attempting to construct the three building complex before giving up and relinquishing the site to the Pennsylvania -based firm, will either control “whole or in part” the leasing of 38,000 sq.-ft. of retail space in the new development.

Revealed by the Selectmen at the meeting, the news of Starr’s return to the project that he failed to complete was a startling announcement to those in attendance.

“This just didn’t make much sense at all,” said Doug Koplow of Oak Avenue.

Bill Lovett,  a senior development manager at Toll’s Apartment Living – a relatively new whole-owned subsidiary within the Horsham, Penn.-based firm – would only say the details for the company’s arrangement with Starr are in the new draft Land Development Agreement, the nuts and bolts legal document describing what will occur during the construction.

The LDA notes Starr’s involvement as taking “whole or part” of the commercial portion of the project once the space is built out and the town has provided a temporary certification of occupancy. The earliest that will take place is at least two years away.

Speculation of Starr’s return leans towards Toll’s expertise in the residential development yet having little knowledge of commercial leasing. Having spent the better part of a year attempting to land a big retail operation for his project, Starr’s contacts would be seen as valuable to Toll. 

Some residents expressed a worry that Starr’s background – during his tenure he could not put together the necessary financing to build the project nor find an anchor store for the site – could lead to further troubles for the project.

“[Starr] hasn’t shown much competence when he had Cushing Village and I don’t see much changing,” said Rita Butzer Carpenter of Precinct 6.

But for Selectmen Chair Mark Paolillo – who said the board was equally “surprised” by the arrangement between the present and past owners – a new near-luxury development on three town blocks at the intersection of Common and Trapelo would be a draw for most commercial retailers.

“We have the confidence that the commercial space will be very appealing to a wide range of retailers once [Cushing Village] is built,” said Paolillo. “It will be a very beautiful place to be located, and you’ll have 115 units of people who are customers inside the building.” 

Before the Starr bombshell landed, most residents were eager to hear why Toll was seeking to an extension on the deadline for the parking lot purchase and, as Lovett noted, seeking next month before the Planning Board to move the deadline for the Special Permit on Dec. 3 up by several months.

In March when Toll Brothers took tentative control of the project’s development rights from Starr, Lovitt sought and received a six-month extension, until Aug. 26, to sign the Purchase and Sale for the municipal parking lot.

Since then, the firm has been performing environmental tests and other audits as part of the company’s due diligence of the site and past agreements.

Lovett said the company’s reviews “just took a bit longer than anticipated.” The delay forced Toll to push back the start of its negotiations with “a retail component” (i.e., Starbucks), said Lovitt.

“We needed to dot the ‘Is’ and cross the ‘Ts’ before moving forward,” said Lovett.

While the added month may, as Selectman Jim Williams noted, be standard fare for a project of this size and past difficulties, one selectman was less than pleased.

“I feel let down by you,” Selectman Sami Baghdady told Lovett, who said that many residents saw Toll as the “white knight” when it rescued the project in March.

“There are many frustrated people as you can tell,” Baghdady said of those in the audience, wondering what assurances does the town have that Toll will not come back in the third week in September “asking for more time?”

Lovett said the company has spent “thousands of dollars” in preconstruction costs and is eager to add Cushing Village to its portfolio of projects including a completed apartment complex in Westborough and one soon to be under construction in Natick.

While saying Toll Brothers “will not find [another extension] here” should it come back in a month with the similar request, Paolillo said the added time “is our last best chance” at guiding the project towards construction.

“There is not option B,” he said as the extension was approved. 

Cushing Village’s New Owner Seeking Added Concessions From Town

Photo: The current state of the location of Cushing Village.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

That 19th-century French saying has a ring of truth to it when the discussion turns to the long-stalled Cushing Village residential/retail/parking development as it appears the new owners are seeking their own set of concessions from the town.

Approved for construction in July 2013, the project suffered through two-and-a-half years of delays and missed opportunities under the former ownership of lead developer Smith Legacy Partners.

So there was hope in the community when national housing firm Toll Brothers purchased the development rights in March of this year that a change at the top would allow the $80 million project – 115 units of housing, 38,000 sq.-ft. of stores and approximately 200 parking spaces – to move quickly to the construction stage.

In fact, representative of the Pennsylvia company said then it would not seek changes to the project which would warrant restarting the process, expressing confidence it would make the Aug. 26 deadline for the firm to sign a purchase and sale agreement with the town to buy a key town-owned land parcel, the municipal parking lot adjacent to Trapelo Road and Starbucks for $1 million, that would allow building to commence. 

For the town, Toll Brothers’ commitment to the site would stop the “endless loop of uncertainty” hampering work from commencing, said Selectman Sami Baghdady in March.

But what was said in the Spring appears to have fallen to the wayside in mid Summer. According to documents from the Board of Selectmen, Toll Brothers representatives will come before the Board at its Monday, Aug. 22 meeting seeking a new extension to the P&S deadline taking place four days later. 

In addition, the firm will request amendments to the Land Development Agreement – which for commercial property is a development plan that typically includes the time frame for completing the project, the property description, design sketches, and other details. 

The details of the changes and why they are being sought by Toll Brothers have not been publically flushed out – both the town and Toll are not speaking on the matter – as both sides appear ready to present their arguments on Monday.

Earlier this month, the board and the town appeared ready to sign all necessary paperwork on the 22nd, with current board chair Mark Paolillo saying that “both sides want this to go through.” 

Cushing Village Deal With Town ‘Close’ As Deadline Looms

Photo: Cushing Village.

Will the final chapter of the saga known as Cushing Village be written tonight?

Or will the Belmont Board of Selectmen and national developer Toll Brothers go down to the last few days before striking a deal on the cusp of a late August deadline?

Answering the question will occur at the Selectmen meeting on Monday afternoon, Aug. 8, as the three-member board, will discuss and possibly vote on a series of amendments to the joint development agreement and other documents concerning the $80 million three-building project in the heart of Cushing Square.

As of this weekend, a final deal between town and developer is “close,” according to one Belmont selectman.

But, said Selectman Chair Mark Paolillo on Sunday, “I don’t know if it will be done by [Monday’s meeting.]”

“We still haven’t gotten the [joint development] documents back [from Toll Brothers],” he said. 

With a deadline of Aug. 26 for both sides to agree to a purchase and sale of the municipal parking lot adjacent to Trapelo Road, time is running short in finding consensus on a final agreement between the town and Toll.

“It really is one minor but important issue that needs to be resolved,” said Paolillo, who would not reveal what is the sticking point other than said it has to do with finances. . 

Paolillo said the board is “holding firm” that there will be no significant changes to the joint development agreement between the town and developer. 

The Horsham, Penn.-based company did not return calls for comment.

Toll Brothers purchased the parking lot’s development rights and two adjacent land parcels from the original owner, Smith Legacy Partners, on March 14. Since 2009, Smith Legacy shepherd the project through the permitting process and appeared ready to begin construction on the structure with 115 condominiums, 230 parking spaces and nearly 40,000 sq.-ft of shops in 2013 but could never secure the financing necessary to start construction.

Belmont’s selectmen voted unanimously on March 22 to approve a one-time only extension of the purchase and sale agreement to Aug. 26 for the sale of the municipal parking lot at the corner of Williston and Trapelo roads. As part of the deal, Toll agreed to pay the town $1 million for the parking lot and an additional $150,000 in fees to complete the transfer.

In March, Bill Lovett, senior development manager at Toll’s Apartment Living subsidiary, said the extension would allow the firm to do its due diligence of the property before committing to developing the site.

Lovett told the board it is taking the project “as is” with no plans to ask for changes to the massing and basic design that the Planning Board took 18 months to create in July 2013.

In the little more than four months since the extension, a deal once described by the former owner’s attorney who dubbed the agreement “complicated.” 

While it appears the selectmen and Toll Brothers are willing to take the negotiations to the board’s Aug. 22 meeting – only four days from the self-imposed deadline – Paolillo said: “both sides want this to go through.” 

“I know that [Belmont Town Counsel] George [Hall] is going through the documents which may mean we’ll have something to agree to in principal on Monday,” said Paolillo. 

“I really think we are going to be fine,” he said. 

Selectmen Set March 22 As D-Day for Cushing Village Developer to Move on Project

Photo: Cushing Village.

The Belmont Board of Selectmen Monday warned the developer of Cushing Village that unless it sees “significant progress” towards construction of the three building, residential/retail/parking project at its March 22 meeting, it would be unlikely to extend a purchase and sale agreement for a critical parcel of town-owned land that expires March 28.

“It would be very difficult for us to approve an extension … unless the developer comes back with something new, something that gives us absolute security that [the] project will proceed and go forward and not lag for years and months,” said Selectmen Chair Sami Baghdady of the 167,000 square foot project approved by the Planning Board when he was chair back in July 2013. 

After cancelling a scheduled meeting to update Belmont elected officials on the status of its long-troubled development at its Monday, March 14 meeting, the board pointed to its next public meeting, on March 22, as the final opportunity for Chris Starr, the managing partner of Smith Legacy Partners which owns two parcels and is seeking to purchase the municipal parking lot adjacent to Trapelo Road and abuts the Starbucks cafe in Cushing Square.

Starr told the town he will attend next Tuesday night’s meeting to be held at Town Hall where he will “make a presentation,” said Baghdady.

“Something has to be done by March 28,” said Baghdady

Under a long-standing agreement, Smith Legacy was to gain title to the lot for $850,000, but only when it secured a complete financing deal. It has been the inability to nail down the money needed to begin construction that has delayed the project for the past 958 days.  

Baghdady said if Starr does not convince the board the project is moving forward, it is likely the board will revoke the purchase and sale agreement and retain ownership of the parcel. It would be unlikely that the expired P&S agreement could be revived unless that town issues a new request for proposal for the municipal parking lot and with it the Special Permit – which took 18 months to craft – would also expire.

On March 29, Starr would only have ownership to two small parcels – the former CVS building at Common and Belmont and the building at the intersection of Trapelo and Common that once housed the S.S. Pierce store, “and that could be potentially two more moderately-sized projects.” 

With the P&S taken off the table, the town will keep nearly $700,000 in penalties that Starr has been paying the town over the past two years in option payments. 

“I want to reassure everybody that Belmont is being protected. While we want to see development in Cushing Square, we want to support the local businesses, we know what the residents have gone through, its been a roller coaster ride. But we need to protect the town.” said Baghdady.

Town Forming United Front on Cushing Village’s Future

Photo: The proposed Cushing Village.

The meeting held Monday night, Feb. 22 in the Chenery Middle School’s teacher’s lounge took longer than expected. But what is an extra half hour when the subject under discussion is a troubled commercial project more than 900 days behind schedule?

In attendance at the executive session were the Board of Selectmen (which called the meeting), Chair Liz Allison and Barbara Fiacco of the Planning Board, Town Counsel George Hall, Treasurer Floyd Carman and Town Administrator David Kale with only one agenda item on the schedule: Cushing Village, the proposed 164,000 sq.-ft. residential/retail/parking complex at the corner of Common Street and Trapelo Road in the heart of Cushing Square.

While nothing was officially revealed at the closed doors conference, enough was evident from the people assembled, the time spent in conference as well as off-the-record comments from town officials; Belmont is preparing to move on the troubled Cushing Village project, with or without the currently designated developer, Smith Legacy Partner Series. 

This new united front will likely be unveiled tonight, Tuesday, Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. as the Planning Board will receive another “update” on the project from the development team, a requirement the board imposed on Smith Legacy after it failed to meet “three agreed to ‘milestones’ with the town” set the first week in December to begin the initial construction phase of the $63 million project with the purchase of the municipal parking lot adjacent to Trapelo Road. 

To keep its option to buy the municipal lot for $850,000, Smith Legacy has paid more than $600,000 in penalites to Belmont, with the knowledgment that half of that amount would be used towards the purchase of the parcel when financing is secured. 

The project, beset with endless delays and missed deadlines, has been in a development purgatory as the team – comprised of Smith Legacy and its partners Urban Space and the recently added NJ-based Micheals Development Company – has been unable to secure the myriad of financing sources required to construct the three-building complex with includes 115 residential units, 225 parking spaces and approximately 38,000 square feet of first floor retail space.

The apparent breaking point for the town came earlier this month when Starr announced respected industry leader Cornerstone Real Estate Advisers was no longer involved with the project to provide important mezzanine financing to the project. 

Yet, as one observer who is in banking said, the best case senario for Belmont is to push the developer towards giving up control of the parcel to either its lead lender, Wells Fargo, or sell the development rights to an established developer rather than simply declare the developer incapable of completing the project in a reasonable time.

“You don’t want to go through the [Planning Board] process again. You want a smooth transition,” she said.