WINCHESTER - The Town of Winchester and the City of Woburn have long been adversaries on the field, basketball court and hockey rink, but now, thanks to the city’s plan to redevelop the former Kraft Foods property on Montvale Avenue (on the Winchester line) under its Technology and Business Overlay District (TBOD), the two may clash off the field, as well.
Residents of Sunset Road, which abuts a proposed 197 residential until development, expressed concerns regarding stormwater management, wildlife and energy/climate change. They’re asking Woburn to continue reviewing the site. The Select Board, meanwhile, voted on Monday night to have Town Manager Lisa Wong hire one or more consultants to look into the potential stormwater, wildlife and climate issues.
Overall, the project covers 77-acres and owner Leggat McCall Properties LLC wants to turn the site into a mixed-use development known as The Vale, consisting of office/lab/flex/research/ and development, retail, hotel, institutional, and residential uses comprised of townhouses, multi-family housing and senior housing.
Redevelopment of the site will occur in a phased manner, according to Town Engineer Beth Rudolph, with different applicants responsible for the various components of the project build-out. The project has been reviewed under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act and the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs issued a certificate on the Final Environmental Impact Report for the project last fall.
Rudolph said the developer already submitted several permits to the City of Woburn including a Notice of Intent to the Woburn Conservation Commission by Leggat McCall Properties LLC for the entire project, plus two special permits: one for The Highland at Vale, a townhouse and multi-family residential development and one for the construction of elderly housing units and an extended day care facility consisting of assisted living and memory care units, known as The Delaney.
Winchester’’s Town Counsel Art Kreiger noted these permits are necessary because the developer can’t build 197 units under the city’s TBOD by right. Even though the Town Engineer admitted the project is moving quickly, obtaining the special permits has slowed it down somewhat.
However, it’s the additional residential units causing the need for the special permit that most impacts Winchester. Rudolph noted how they would lead to more impervious area, which leads to more potential flooding problems for the Sunset Road neighborhood.
Rudolph said the town submitted “extensive comments” to the Woburn City Council on July 7 outlining the town’s concerns on a variety of issues including impacts to the character of the adjacent Sunset Road, downstream flooding and stormwater impacts, traffic impacts, improved pedestrian and bikeway amenities, and emergency access to the site.
The Engineering Department requested a proposal from Weston & Sampson for a peer review of the stormwater and flooding impacts from the project including incorporating green infrastructure and low impact development techniques. Rudolph said to expect a response by late this week or early next.
The Town Engineer did add the developer will provide a “very large stormwater detention basin,” which she suggested the town look into because Winchester usually goes beyond state regulations when it comes to stormwater management. She asked Woburn to go beyond those regulations, too.
One possible solution involves reducing the number of townhouses, an issue Rudolph raised to the City Council because the developer seeks to build more units than allowed by right in that particularly zoned area.
Select Board member Susan Verdicchio send the council is still debating and may send it to a committee or have a peer review done.
Zeke Nims, the Chair of the Conservation Commission, said he would support a peer review of the stormwater management plan. He didn’t believe the site would accommodate the impact of potential stormwater. He pointed out the seven different projects currently planned for the site, suggesting they could also affect wildlife in the area. He suggested pushing the developer to be more wildlife and wetlands friendly.
“I trust the Select Board to take care of it,” he opined.
David Miller, also a member of the Conservation Commission, said he contacted Woburn regarding the potential for regional impacts on wildlife and engaged the city in discussion, though he didn’t specify how the city responded to his concerns.
When asked by Select Board member Mariano Goluboff what the town’s options were when it came to stormwater requirements or a review by Woburn, Kreiger said some of these issues had been raised years ago, but no one did anything. He also mentioned how the developer wants a special permit to construct 197 residential units since he can’t do it by right, but that doesn’t even take into account the senior housing units, since Woburn apparently doesn’t consider elderly housing residential units.
Town Counsel said the city already voted to send the project to committee last week, though he admitted he wasn’t sure if any meetings had been scheduled yet. He also pointed out Woburn voted to refer it to their legal team, plus engineering and DPW departments with peer review either tonight or sometime in the future (possibly September).
Kreiger proposed having Rudolph and Town Planner Brian Szekely talk with Woburn’s City Engineer and City Planner about specific peer review areas such as stormwater, wildlife and energy/climate change.
As far as options go, he said the town needs to figure out Woburn’s peer review, its own peer review and try to participate in Woburn’s meetings as much as possible. One way to stay connected to the project involves writing a letter, which the town will submit to Woburn outlining its issues as it did in the past.
While Szekely and Rudolph helped craft the letter, Planning Board Chair Heather von Mering asked the Select Board how her board could assist either through a letter of their own or signing onto the one already created. Select Board member Jacqueline Welch suggested adding a few sentences to the letter written by the Town Engineer and Town Planner.
“It would be helpful to have another board weight in,” she argued.
Verdicchio said the Select Board should coordinate more with the Planning Board if time permits, but she backed Welch’s idea for now. von Mering said contributing to the letter was actually her board’s intention for tonight’s meeting.
Residents of the Sunset Road neighborhood, which abuts the proposed 197 unit residential development, also proposed submitting a letter to the city. One resident leading the charge, Ann Sera, who has spoken on the project several times in the past, said her neighborhood needs to “come together to let Woburn know what we want.”
She added, “We need to put up a unified, non-contradictory letter to Woburn.”
Right now, the ball is in Woburn’s court, so to speak, but Winchester will definitely be watching and commenting when appropriate.