The old Kraft Foods plant site

THE VALE - This illustration shows a portion of a 1.6 million square foot redevelopment proposed for the old Kraft Foods plant site off of Montvale Avenue by Hill Street. Boston developer Leggat McCall, which acquired some 77-acres of land from the corporate food giant nearly two years ago now, just recently concluded its state MEPA review of the project. (Photo from Legatt McCall)

WOBURN - A Boston developer's plans for a massive redevelopment of the old Atlantic Gelatin site off Montvale Avenue by I-93 recently cleared a significant environmental regulatory hurdle.

In a 20-page decision issued late last month, Kathleen Theoharides, the executive secretary for the Mass. Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA), declared Leggat McCall's proposed 1.6 million square foot redevelopment of the old Kraft Foods site in East Woburn as in compliance with the state's environmental regulations.

Just days after the EOEEA secretary made her findings, Woburn's City Council granted Mayor Scott Galvin the authority to ink a development pact with Leggat McCall officials which solidifies the firm's mitigation commitments to the community. The development pact would become effective upon the issuance of a special permit for the Kraft Foods redevelopment (for more details about that deal, look to future editions of The Daily Times Chronicle).

The approximate 61-acre property, which sits by the McDonald's Restaurant off of Hill Street, contains a shuttered 400,000 square foot plant where gelatin and other food products were manufactured for close to a century.

The Boston developer has ambitious plans to erect a myriad of buildings containing housing, high-end office space, and other commercial uses, but in order to obtain state highway access permits and a host of other state permissions, the project first needed to be certified as in compliance with the Mass. Environmental Policy Act (MEPA).

"I have reviewed the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) for the project and hereby determine that it adequately and properly complies with MEPA and its implementing regulations. The project may proceed to permitting," declared Theoharides in her Sept. 27 decision.

The EOEEA secretary's latest declaration was filed just days after a deadline lapsed for public comment on Leggat McCall's Aug. 15 submission of a 1,166-page FEIR, which detailed ways the Boston firm intended to mitigate the massive development's environmental effects.

Normally, MEPA filings and decisions are released in short order to the public through the agency's Internet-based "Environmental Monitor", but the latest Kraft Foods decision apparently won't be featured in that publication until early November.

Dubbing its proposed redevelopment, "The Vale", the project would break ground within a special technology overlay district established by Woburn's City Council in 2018.

As proposed, The Vale would reportedly become the largest ever private development undertaken in the city. The project, to occur right by the Stoneham line and extend towards the Sunset Road and Forest Street sections of Winchester, would include:

• Approximately 880,000 square feet of research-and-development and high-end office space;

• Roughly 83,000 square feet of unspecified retail and restaurant uses;

• A 135-room hotel;

• A 100-unit senior housing project;

• 75 townhomes;

• 125 multi-family residential units;

• A 105-unit assisted living/memory care facility;

• and two structured parking garages containing a total of 2,875 parking spaces.

Neighbors…

Over the past year, officials in Stoneham and Winchester had lamented the proposed redevelopment's potential impacts to their communities, especially in relation to the approximate 18,000 weekday vehicle trips that are expected to be generated through the project.

In its past two environmental impact reports, Leggat McCall officials argued they can mitigate those effects by expanding the Kraft Foods site entrance on Hill Street into a five-lane roadway.

As Theoharides noted, the developer has also committed to the implementation of a multi-phased roadway improvement plan that will include the realignment of Montvale Avenue, the addition of new turning lanes onto I-93, and the installation of high-tech "adaptive" traffic signals.

Proposed improvements that are likely to be of interest to area residents include the following:

• Adaptive traffic signal upgrades of all three signalized intersections at Montvale Avenue/HIll Street/I-93 south off ramps, the Montvale Avenue/I-93 northbound ramps, and Montvale Avenue/Maple Street/Unicorn Park Drive;

• The construction of a rotary by the site entrance to improve traffic flow from Hill Street by Montvale Avenue;

• The full reconstruction of Montvale Avenue by I-93 southbound's off-ramps and Hill Street, which will include the addition of two turning lanes into the site for those heading westbound from Montvale Avenue;

• The widening of Hill Street to include five lanes (two for entering vehicles and three for exiting cars);

• The widening of the I-93 southbound ramp to include an extra traffic lane;

• The widening of Montvale Avenue by the I-93 overpass to provide for six traffic lanes (three in each direction);

• The addition of new turning lanes on Montvale Avenue's eastbound approach.

To ensure those fixes are sufficient, Leggat McCall has also promised to monitor regional traffic patterns for multiple years after the development is fully occupied.

"The goal of the monitoring program is to evaluate the transportation-related assumptions made in the DEIR and FEIR, the adequacy of mitigation measures, and the effectiveness of the [transportation demand management (TDM)] program," the EOEEA secretary explained in her decision.

"The reports will present summaries of the current traffic signal operations at each site of monitoring, documentation of the observed and analyzed traffic congestion, and recommendations for specific changes to signal timing (and possibly phasing) to each municipality for implementation," Theoharides added.

Back in the summer of 2018, the City Council in a unanimous vote agreed to designate the industrial site as part of Woburn's special Technology and Business Use Overlay District (TBOD). The TBOD was established at the urging of Mayor Scott Galvin, who along with the aldermen, suggested the shuttered industrial site should be targeted for a jobs-focussed redevelopment.

Leggat McCall officials say the future mixed-use development should lure a number of new-age employers, including biotechnology, advanced manufacturing, and non-technology companies. By mixing housing and retail uses into the site, which should cater to those thousands of new employees and business clients, city leaders hoped to contain the redevelopment's traffic impacts.

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