MIDDLESEX - With the last redevelopment plans torpedoed by the Great Recession more than a dozen years earlier, Stoneham’s citizens acted last spring to revive plans to redevelop portions of an underutilized industrial zone near the Woburn line into housing.
However, little did the townspeople know, a seemingly innocent request to update Stoneham’s stormwater management requirements passed at that same Town Meeting assembly may have sunk yet again those redevelopment prospects.
At stake is the future of a 5.6-acre site at 95 Maple St., an old trucking terminal that sits in a low-lying industrial zone behind Montvale Avenue by I-93. And, according to some, the trickle down effects could cause waves far beyond that lone redevelopment plan.
Presently used as a satellite parking and materials storage site for Winchester Hospital, which busses its employees to and from the sprawling parking lot, the Maple Street parcel was purchased in the spring of 2020 by Calare Properties for $12.85 million.
After the developer held various meeting with Stoneham’s Planning Board to discuss the site’s redevelopment potential, Town Meeting voters last May voted unanimously to create a special overlay district around the site to allow multi-family housing on the property.
Last month, Stoneham attorney Charles Houghton, a lawyer representing the Framingham-based real estate management firm, appeared before the local planners upon realizing that his client’s proposed 250-unit apartment complex may cost millions more to build due to a series of changes to the town’s newest stormwater system design standards.
At issue was an unrelated warrant article passed at the same Annual Town Meeting last May, when residents granted local officials permission to modify Stoneham’s stormwater bylaws in order to comply with new federal environmental regulations.
Passed unanimously and without any controversy - in fact not a single voter or local official questioned the potential impacts stormwater bylaw changes - part of the language contained in the four-page warrant article okayed the creation of a three-person Stormwater Board to promulgate a set of new regulations to enforce those more rigorous runoff standards.
As Houghton explained to the planners in Stoneham Town Hall in July, based upon his interpretation of those new regulations, local builders will now have to design drainage systems capable of handling 100-year storms - or once in a century weather events.
“At first, we were sort of taken aback thinking about how to manage a 100-year storm. That’s quite a storm to try to contain, and as you know, the site is right next to Sweetwater Brook,” said Houghton, referring to a stream that runs along the back edge of the Maple Street site.
“It could be in the millions-of-dollars range,” Stephen Glowacki, an engineer hired by the developer, later predicted when asked how much more it would cost for his client to design an onsite drainage system that complies with the 100-year-storm standard.
Long underutilized, the industrial site at 95 Maple Street had been slated for a 225-unit senior living development back in 2007, when Stoneham builders Joseph Cunningham and Patrick Keohane obtained Select Board approval for the 55-plus development.
However, the local developers, who had two years earlier obtained Town Meeting approval to create an age-restricted housing overlay district around the old trucking terminal, were forced to shelve the redevelopment plan after the nation's subprime mortgage market tanked and caused a worldwide economic crisis.
With the site being leased by Winchester Hospital since 2009, town officials have long hoped the vacant trucking terminal and the surrounding area could be revitalized, especially with the underutilized site generating just $85,000 in annual taxes.
So when Calare Properties officials approached Stoneham’s Planning Board with the hopes of constructing a garden-style apartment complex, the town officials jumped at the chance to negotiate the terms of the needed overlay district change.
Ultimately, according to Houghton and officials from engineering firm RJ O’Connell and Associates, the resulting redevelopment would generate some $750,000 in annual taxes and bring a substantial amount of new green space to a plot of land that sits right by a section of the Tri-Community Greenway that runs parallel to Montvale Avenue on its way into Woburn and Winchester.
Stoneham’s planners, who simultaneously crafted a new “inclusionary zoning” bylaw that will also require builders to designate at least 12 percent of new larger-scale housing project as affordable units, also looked forward to bringing Stoneham closer to its 10 percent affordable housing threshold.
Per the new affordable housing bylaw, yet another measure enacted at last spring’s Town Meeting, Calare Properties would have to set aside roughly 38 units for Chapter 40B eligible housing inventory.
According to the Mass. Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), in order for Stoneham to achieve the 10 percent safe harbor status, the community must have at least 939 affordable units. Presently, according to the state, the town has 498 affordable units.
Last month, various Planning Board members lamented the possible unintended consequences of the new stormwater management standards. However, with the Maple Street landlord suggesting that a denser development or potential waiver of the new overlay and affordable housing standards might be necessary, the elected officials made clear that the Framingham firm should first approach the Stormwater Board for a clarification of new rules.
“I think this is one of those instances where [a Town Meeting decision] may have unintended consequences,” said Planning Board veteran Kevin Dolan later commented. “[This housing proposal] a good project, and I think it will be beneficial to the town. Hopefully, the Stormwater Management Board can be flexible.”
Complicating the developer’s chances of overcoming the new drainage system standards, should a waiver not be granted, Glowacki and others have already acknowledged that the Maple Street site already sits next to an area that has long been prone to flooding and runoff concerns.
Specifically, the site sits right behind a flood plain on Montvale Avenue, where portions of the roadway between Lindenwood Cemetery and the Montvale Place strip mall are often inundated by runoff from severe storms.
While confident prior to Town Meeting that the apartment redevelopment could be designed in a way to mitigate project-related impacts to those flooding issues, the developer’s engineers aren’t sure they can still do so without ballooning site development costs to the point where the entire development no longer makes economic sense.
Under one potential fix, Glowacki and other engineers are considering whether the stormwater requirements could be met by capturing stormwater before it reaches the Montvale Avenue and parts of Maple Street.
Referencing a 1999 report regarding flooding conditions along Montvale Avenue, engineers earlier this summer visited Lindenwood Cemetery to see if portions of the site could be used for that purpose.
Happening to frequent the nearby cemetery during a significant rain storm in July, when large sections of the municipal property flooded, Glowaki doubts the viability of that option. However, his team is also looking at whether areas around Lindenwood Road, which are at a higher elevation by the rear of the Main Street’s Stop & Shop site, could serve as an alternative location.
“We’ve looked at an area adjacent to the bike path just beyond Lindenwood Road. We could potentially capture stormwater up there and lessen the burden on Montvale Avenue,” the engineer explained. “That would in turn reduce the potential for flooding on our site.”