MIDDLESEX - Officials in Woburn and Wilmington long insisted that the reconstruction of the New Boston Street bridge will spark a new wave of redevelopment by Anderson Regional Transportation Center.
With those predictions proving downright prophetic, two developers have already secured permission from the City of Woburn to erect roughly 675 new housing units on either side of the bridge’s future footprint.
Last month, Woburn’s City Council okayed the construction of a 250-unit apartment complex on a 12-acre parcel seated right next an overflow parking lot belonging to Anderson Regional Transportation Center.
Cabot, Cabot & Forbes, which will erect a seven-story building and a five-story parking deck on the site, believes the housing will be sorely needed as the New Boston Street bridge project fuels the next wave of commercial redevelopments around an isolated industrial district off New Boston Street by the North Woburn/Wilmington side of the train tracks.
“This is essentially an extension of the New Boston Street bridge, where the bridge is going to extend what has been called 315 New Boston Street to the MBTA access,” Allen & Major engineer Williams explained on behalf of the petitioner during a public hearing last fall. “We’re going to extend that driveway down [from the end of the bridge] and carry it through to the end of our site.”
The new redevelopment, previously dubbed the “Anderson Station” apartments by the developer, is expected to cap off a furious years-long construction spree that has featured an almost singular focus on creating new apartments within Woburn’s Commerce Way Corridor Overlay District (CWCOD).
Specifically, thanks to a zoning amendment passed in 2020, new housing starts within the development district are now strongly discouraged.
According to local attorney Joseph Tarby, who represented Cabot, Cabot, and Forbes during the council deliberations over the Anderson Station project, his client, along with the owner of an approximate 20-acre industrial site on the opposite side of the future New Boston Street bridge, were the last pair of area landlords able to take advantage of the CCWOD’s old multi-family housing regulations.
“In January of 2020, the zoning ordinance was amended so anyone seeking to do housing in the Commerce Way overlay is limited to 10 units per acre. So it’s very unlikely you’ll see another housing proposal coming forward,” explained Tarby, who added that residential developers must also now slate 25 percent of all units towards affordable tenants.
The latest housing project approval comes nearly four months after the City Council approved the construction of an even larger 445-unit apartment complex on North Woburn/Wilmington side of the future New Boston Street bridge.
California’s Fairfield Residential, which inked a deal to purchase the site from epoxy and paint manufacturer New England Resins, is also looking to cash-in on the economic resurgence expected from the bridge project.
Presently, the industrial property at 316 New Boston Street sits at the end of an old-world industrial and manufacturing district that can only be accessed through secondary residential side streets in North Woburn and Wilmington.
However, as Fairfield Residential representative Rob Hewitt told the City Council during last summer’s special permit deliberations, the bridge will reconnect that isolated industrial area to Anderson Regional Transportation Center and a much-quicker traffic route onto I-93 via Commerce Way.
"The construction of the New Boston Street bridge is going to unlock the potential of the industrial park," said Hewitt during a public hearing before the City Council last spring. “We're the only site in the [CWCOD] district on this side of the tracks, but we're heard from other people [who are now eyeing commercial redevelopments there].”
A commercial refocus?
Long before the New Boston Street bridge project garnered its final approvals from the Mass. Department of Transportation (MassDOT), city officials described the Commerce Way corridor, which stretches from the old Woburn Mall site to Presidential Way by I-93, as the last stretch of undeveloped commercial and industrial properties within Woburn.
Ironically, it was Cabot, Cabot, and Forbes that emerged in 2016 to jumpstart a near decade-long wait by city officials for someone to take advantage of the special CWCOD established in 2007 to encourage that private investment.
Specifically, the Boston firm in the fall of that year introduced plans to construct a 300-unit apartment complex at the former Fitgerald Tile site situated right at the corner of Commerce Way and Atlantic Avenue by Anderson Regional Transportation Center.
During the ensuing four years, city officials had okayed the construction of roughly 800 apartments within that target area, which includes the mixed-use Woburn Village redevelopment of old Woburn Mall site.
Worried about the impact of so many new housing units, the City Council at the urging of Mayor Scott Galvin moved at the start of 2020 to hit the pause button on that construction trend.
Over the past year, the City Council has responded with mixed results to the last pair of housing developments.
Critics like Ward 1 Councilor Joanne Campbell and Ward 5 Councilor Darlene Mercer-Bruen, have contended that the CWCOD was supposed to foster the construction of true mixed-use redevelopments situated within close proximity to shopping and retail sites, new Class A office buildings, and other new employment centers.
Instead, opponents of the Cabot, Cabot, and Forbes and Fairfield Residential projects argued, the city is getting two massive new housing projects with no major accessory uses.
“As I stated at our other meetings, I believe the petitioner is putting in too many units within a small space. And it’s going in an area where we’re already seeing what I consider overdevelopment,” said Campbell last month of the Anderson Station proposal.
Those voting in favor of the pair of housing projects have argued that both developers are investing millions of dollars to cleanup polluted portions of East and North Woburn that have long been viewed as an eyesore.
Last August, Ward 2 Councilor Richard Gately, describing the land where the Fairfield Residential project is slated for “the armpit” of the city, praised the development team for coming forward to cleanup the land by installing luxury apartments accompanied by new hiking trails, a dog park, and other amenities like a pool.
Hoping to see a shift away from housing projects, city officials say that once the new bridge is constructed, high-end tech and life sciences corporations are likely to view the North Woburn side of New Boston Street as a perfect locale for new campuses outside of Boston.
According to a 2018 study commissioned by Mayor Scott Galvin and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), the bridge project once completed should attract an upswell on investment interest in and around the industrial corridor.
Already, the landlocked side of New Boston Street is home to 370 businesses that employ more than 5,000 people. Though most buildings in the district are single-story warehouses and smaller manufacturing spaces, MAPC officials say bioscience firms will likely view the area as an attractive alternative to their traditional Cambridge and Boston hubs.
"As the market for industrial real-estate continues to tighten in the inner-core of Boston, Woburn is well positioned to absorb businesses needing to relocate,” experts from the regional planning agency reasoned.
"There are currently no vacant, developable parcels in the New Boston Street industrial park, and as such any new construction would need to either be vertical or expand into existing parking areas," the study authors added in their 2018 report. "Many of the current users in the area are single story dependent and therefore may be unable to benefit from additional building height, but could possibly use additional horizontal space."