WOBURN - The owner of the New England Resins property off of New Boston Street last night began the process of preserving the right to pursue a dense housing or mixed-use development on the 16-acre property.
During a meeting in City Hall on Tuesday night, the Planning Board issued an unfavorable recommendation on a preliminary subdivision plan by DM Five Inc. for 316 New Boston St. that would carve the Wilmington line industrial site into three separate lots.
A week ago, Mayor Scott Galvin and other city officials suggested the New Boston Street landlord had introduced faux subdivision plans in an attempt to duck freshly-imposed housing density restrictions for new construction within the city's Commerce Way Corridor Overlay District (CWCOD).
"There is a real sense of urgency of the council to adopt this. Since the ordinance was presented, we have seen two zoning freeze filings presented," the mayor told the council last Tuesday night, when the council agreed to significantly reduce the size of allowable housing projects within the CWCOD.
Notably, the New England Resins property is situated towards the very end of New Boston Street by the old Woburn Landfill property at Merrimac Street and the Wilmington line. The 16-acre parcel partially straddles sections of the CWCOD.
New England Resins, which distributes and packages chemicals like paints, clays, and epoxies, has operated out of a 100,000 square foot warehouse on the property since the 1970's, according to the corporation's website. Similar industrial uses of the land date all the way back to 1941.
At present, the entire New Boston Street industrial zone in North Woburn is completely isolated from major traffic corridors and public transportation services. As such, it can only be accessed by traveling through a network of residential side streets.
However, as the mayor pointed out during the City Council meeting last week, the same New England Resins site within the next couple of years will sit at the very gateway to a restored New Boston Street bridge.
That estimated $16.4 million investment is expected to unlock the economic development potential for the entire New Boston Street corridor by re-establishing a pivotal roadway connection to the Anderson Regional Transportation Center, Commerce Way, and quick highway-ramp access onto I-93.
Preliminary subdivision process
The preliminary subdivision approval process was created to let developers solicit feedback about a proposal without having to engage professional engineers and architects to create detailed construction documents.
Planning Boards then provide constructive comments about those development concepts in their decision, which establishes a seven-month zoning freeze.
Under the process, petitioners after the initial review can formalize the project plans for submission under the definitive subdivision process, which if approved, extends the property's zoning freeze for another eight years.
In the past few years, at least two other developers, including those pursuing the Woburn Mall redevelopment and the construction of townhouses at the old Verizon Trucking Terminal off of Locust Street, have similarly utilized the preliminary subdivision approval process to preserve their development rights.
Last night no mention was made by either the city officials or DM Five Inc. attorney Joseph Tarby as to whether the landowner actually intends to move ahead with the underlying proposal.
However, based upon comments from the petitioner's development team, including RJ O'Connell & Associates Engineer Brain McCarthy, the split of the 16-acre property into three lots would pave the way for a trio of new commercial buildings that each contain roughly 15,000 square feet.
Besides demolishing New England Resins current headquarters, McCarthy explained the subdivision would require various site upgrades, including:
• The installation of new drainage systems,
• Construction of modern water and sewer connections;
• and the construction of a access road that would connect to an entirely realigned New Boston Street corridor.
Given the type of investment required to bring the subdivision up to current building and zoning standards, such a development seems economically counterintuitive given that New England Resins presently leases significantly more space within an existing 100,000 square foot warehouse.
Planning Board concerns
In spite of the planners' denial, the landowner, listed as DM Five Inc., now enjoys a seven-month reprieve from any new zoning ordinances enacted by city officials. That zoning freeze is backdated from the date the application was first filed with the city.
The city officials based their negative recommendation on the advise of Planning Director Tina Cassidy, who noted a number of concerns with the proposed industrial subdivision, including:
• Initial renderings don't include the proposed construction of the New Boston Street bridge, which will reportedly be dropped right by the gateway to the New England Resins site;
• The proposed new access road into each of the new lots, which culminates in a cul-de-sac, fails to meet various dimensional standards for commercial/industrial roadways, such as a 60-foot width requirement;
• The substandard 50-foot road access road also lacks properly-sized sidewalks and landscaped strips as required for so-called Type 3 subdivisions;
• The proposed water and sewer line connections for the subdivision are too small;
• Questions as to whether one of the new lots, which includes roughly 3-acres of land situated in Wilmington, meets current dimensional and setback standards under Woburn's zoning ordinances.