Woburn 'Gelly' site

Woburn's 'Gelly' site to undergo transformation

MIDDLESEX - After four years of careful planning and deliberations, Woburn could be just months away from witnessing the largest ever private development in the city's history break ground.

Though the exact date of the special permit deliberations haven't been determined, the City Council in mid-May voted unanimously to set up public hearings for separate proposals to construct elderly and market rate housing complexes at the former Atlantic Gelatin site in East Woburn off of Montvale Avenue.

The pair of special permit petitions are just two components within Boston-based Leggat McCall's much grander "Vale" project, which will replace a shuttered 400,000 square foot Kraft Foods manufacturing plant with a 1.8 million square foot redevelopment containing the following:

• 800,000 square feet of Class A office and R&D laboratory space for biotechnology, advanced manufacturing, and other high-tech users;

• 75,000 square feet of high-end retail space, to be situated on the ground-floors of that network of office buildings;

• A boutique-style hotel;

• A mix of market rate townhouses and apartments;

• and nearly 200 housing units which will include both congregate elderly apartments and an assisted living/memory care facility.

Comprising some 60-acres of land that runs along I-93 by sections of Winchester and Stoneham, the approximate century-old Kraft Foods site off of Montvale Avenue harkens back to Woburn's heyday as one of the region's industrial and manufacturing powerhouses.

City officials say the redevelopment, which should attract some of the modern era's biggest high-tech firms, will preserve Woburn's status as a regional jobs center.

Already luring Partners Healthcare to the proposed office space, where the state's largest medical network intends to operate a new outpatient treatment center, Leggat McCall is boasting the undertaking will completely transform the gateway into East Woburn.

According to those marketing "The Vale", the project should prove a highly-desirable location given the site's proximity to Boston, two major highways, and a major public transportation hub in Woburn's Anderson Regional Transportation Center.

"The Vale will host today’s innovators in a life-and work-enhancing environment only minutes from Boston, offering Class A office, lab, GMP manufacturing, retail and a boutique hotel. Buildings can be customized and connected to accommodate 150,000 – 800,000 [square feet]," marketing materials for the old Kraft Foods site read.

"Leggat McCall Properties is transforming The Vale to create a vibrant business campus that meets the needs of today’s innovative work force. It’s a place that is surrounded by renowned retail and restaurants; a place for tenants and visitors to work, play, stay – and grow," the Boston developer and real-estate management firm adds.

First phase

With the regional construction industry booming from an almost insatiable demand for new housing inventory — especially luxury apartments — Leggat McCall has for years expected to construct first the residential components of the larger development.

Under the two recently filed special permit applications, Westborough-based Pulte Homes of New England is seeking permission to erect 95 townhomes and 122 garden-style apartments on the Winchester side of the sprawling parcel. Iowa headquartered LCS Woburn, the second applicant, is also planning on managing the senior housing center, which will likewise be clustered by the Winchester line.

Both applicants, some of the largest housing industry developers in the country, were handpicked to Leggat McCall, which typically focuses on managing commercial real-estate holdings.

Based in Atlanta, Georgia, Pulte Homes, the nation's third largest home builder, is seeking a special permit to space out 95 proposed townhouses in a myriad of two-and-three unit buildings. Representatives from the company's Westborough-based office also want to construct three multi-story apartment buildings, including one 50-unit structure and a pair of 36-unit complexes.

LCS's plan is to construct a 84-bed long-term care facility and a separate memory care wing with 36-units. A 100-plus unit congregate senior apartment complex will also be constructed.

A long wait

Back in 2016, when Kraft Foods shuttered the old Jello brand name products plant, Mayor Scott Galvin and the City Council launched a planning initiative that focused almost exclusively on attracting modern-day employers to the site, which in total encompasses 107-acres of land.

At the time, Leggat McCall, then just the leading contender to purchase the East Woburn land holdings, convinced city leaders to consider rezoning the area for a "lifestyle center" campus that would also include housing, entertainment, and shopping amenities.

What resulted was the creation of Woburn's Technology and Business Use Overlay District (TBOD), which requires applicants to furnish a master development plan, outline all proposed traffic and mitigation efforts, and ink a development agreement with the city.

A special permit is also required for all major uses outside of office park and developments.

Though Leggat McCall backed out of its plans to purchase the site when the TBOD rules were adopted, the Boston developer re-emerged in late 2017 after buying the land from Kraft-Heinz for unspecified financial terms.

In June of 2018, after the current redevelopment plan was circulated around the city, the City Council unanimously voted to shift the old manufacturing site into the TBOD.

Since that time, the developer has been attempting to obtain approval from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) to proceed with the state permitting process under the state's MEPA regulations.

According to filings from that MEPA review, which was completed last summer, the Vale project, even after obtaining all needed special permits from the city, will take years to fully build out as millions of dollars in area traffic improvements are implemented per the EOEEA decision.

According to those state filings from the summer of 2019, The Vale project is expected to generate an astonishing 16,688 new weekday vehicular trips to the busy Montvale Avenue corridor by the Stoneham line and I-93.

To ensure the roadway network can handle such a staggering increase in traffic volume, Leggat McCall has proposed the eventual expansion of Hill Street by McDonald's Restaurant and the Kraft Foods site entrance into a five lane roadway.

The construction of an onsite rotary is also being proposed to process vehicles heading to various mixed-use development components within the former Kraft Foods site.

A major realignment of Montvale Avenue, the addition of new turning lanes onto I-93, and the installation of high-tech "adaptive" traffic signals in both Woburn and Stoneham will also be necessary.

Proposed improvements that are likely to be of interest to regional 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.

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