WOBURN - The City Council recently modified the special permit issued for the Fitzgerald Tile redevelopment off of of Commerce Way by authorizing the placement of a ground floor restaurant within the apartment complex.
During their latest meeting in City Hall, the elected officials unanimously granted national housing developer Toll Brothers permission to open a 3,180 square foot restaurant within its mixed-use “Emblem 120” housing complex by the corner of Commerce Way and Atlantic Avenue.
The project, which includes 9,390 square feet of commercial retail space topped by 289 luxury apartments, was first pitched by Cabot, Cabot and Forbes in 2016 and the Boston developer purchased the old 3.5-acre Fitzgerald Tile property. In the spring of 2019, Toll Brothers partnered with Cabot, Cabot, and Forbes on the undertaking.
In September, local attorney Mark Salvati, representing Toll Brothers, explained his client had been in talks with a potential restaurant tenant regarding the lease of nearly a third of the ground floor commercial space on the grounds. However, because the original 2017 special permit stipulated that only one restaurant would be permitted on the location, the petitioner approached the council to change the retail designation for second eatery.
Originally, Toll Brothers wanted to allow fast-food within the second space, but after negotiations with City Engineer Jay Corey and Ward 5 Councilor Darlene Mercer-Bruen, that request has been withdrawn.
According to Mercer-Bruen, whose district includes the Commerce Way corridor, the special permit modification now stipulates the 3,180 square foot of retail space can only used for a full-service restaurant.
“This does state by definition that there’s no fast-food, but the petitioner does reserve the right to try to come back in to change this,” said the East Woburn official. “While there is legal recourse to do that, we have made it a little more difficult [for any future fast-food user to ask for another special permit modification].”
Also as part of the recent special permit decision, the city councilors agreed to modify the mitigation package agreed to by Cabot, Cabot, and Forbes in 2017 by waiving a requirement that the developer improve the landscaping on two traffic islands by the intersection of Commerce Way and Mishawum Road.
According to Salvati, though his client had attempted to implement those roadway improvements, the petitioner has been unable receive formal permission from state transportation officials to authorize the work.
“The two islands, which are the last pieces of this project, are on Mishawum Road…It’s just been impossible to get MassDOT to respond to us to get this done,” Salvati said during the initial public hearing on the special permit modification back in late September.
Though both Mercer-Bruen and Ward 2 Councilor Richard Gately criticized the developer for waiting some three years to begin talks with MassDOT about the islands, City Engineer Jay Corey argued that a series of alternative mitigation measures would improve traffic flow in the region.
Specifically, in exchange for being released from the maintenance obligations, Toll Brothers has agreed to purchase new traffic light controllers and software for the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Commerce Way and the nearby signalized Target site entrance. A third signalization upgrade is also proposed for the Lowe’s site off of Commerce Way by the Market Basket site.
Corey in a Sept. 23 memo to the council pegged the cost of purchasing and installing the new equipment at $85,000.
“The installation of the new traffic signal equipment would allow better traffic flow along the entire Commerce Way corridor. Additionally, the Applied Information units will allow us to put the intersection cameras online, adjust the phasing and timing of each intersection instantaneously from a remote computer and allow the public to run the Travelsafely app when driving the corridor,” the city engineer explained.
The housing complex at 120 Commerce Way, the first-ever project pitched under a Commerce Way Corridor Overlay District (CWCOD) that had been established a decade earlier, ultimately proved to be the forerunner to a wave of mixed-use redevelopments within the region.
Soon after the Fitzgerald Tile redevelopment was okayed, National Development obtained permission to break ground on the nearby 200-unit Emery Flats apartment complex at 200 Presidential Way. The Woburn Village redevelopment of the old Woburn Mall also site sits on the opposite end of the Commerce Way corridor by Mishawum Road.
Presently, Cabot, Cabot and Forbes and another national developer are also seeking permission from the City Council to erect hundreds of other luxury apartments within the CWCOD on industrial properties situated by the future location of the New Boston Street bridge.