Woburn housing

NEW HOUSING OPTIONS may transform the area at the very end of New Boston Street, at the foot of the to-be-built New Boston Street Bridge. The site is opposite Anderson Station and may feature as many as 445 units. The housing is another addition to the area that is being transformed by life science companies, housing, and the newly developed Woburn Mall site.

MIDDLESEX - For decades now, Woburn and Wilmington officials have plugged the reconstruction of a New Boston Street bridge as critical to refueling the region’s already-humming economic engine.

And with state transportation officials finally ready to break ground on the $23.5 million project later this summer, one California-based developer hopes to be the first to reap the financial benefits from that major public construction effort.

In early February, representatives from Fairfield Residential first presented to Woburn's City Council a proposal to construct a 445-unit housing complex on an approximate 20-acre industrial site off of New Boston Street.

Formerly the site of New England Resins, a chemicals, paints, and epoxy manufacturer and distributor, the 316 New Boston St. property sits at the end of a landlocked industrial district that can only be accessed through secondary residential side streets in North Woburn and Wilmington.

However, once the New Boston Street bridge is constructed - a development that will reestablish a key traffic connection between East and North Woburn that was lost in the early 1970s - the landlocked chemical plant will sit at the very gateway of a new four-lane traffic corridor leading to Anderson Regional Transportation Center, Woburn's Commerce Way corridor, and a quick and easy highway connection onto I-93 by the I-95 interchange.

As Robb Hewitt, Fairfield Residential's vice president for development in New England told city officials during a meeting earlier this month, he is almost certain that millions of private investment dollars are about to be dumped into revitalizing the New Boston Street corridor.

"The construction of the New Boston Street bridge is going to unlock the potential of the industrial park," said Hewitt during a hearing in City Hall on his firm's housing plans. "We're the only site in the overlay district on this side of the tracks, but we’ve heard from other people [who are also interested in redeveloping properties there]."

Fairfield Residential, a national developer with a regional New England office in Burlington, Mass., certainly isn't choosing the picture-perfect locale for a high-end apartment complex.

Besides sitting along the edge of an active railroad line, which is used by both MBTA commuter rail trains and Amtrak's Downeaster' service, the new housing will also be sandwiched between an old city landfill off of Merrimac Street to the west, portions of the Olin Chemical superfund site in Wilmington to the north, and the sprawling IndustriPlex Superfund site in Woburn to the south and east.

However, Hewitt argued that those site characteristics can easily be overcome by establishing an outdoor haven for future residents on the acres of pollution-free land available at 316 New Boston St. proper.

Those amenities, according to the housing specialist, would normally be hard to provide at a more traditional development site within well-established shopping and employment centers.

"Because of the size and location of the industrial parcel, we can have significantly more landscaping and open-space," Hewitt told the council. "Particularly over the past year, we've found our residents demanding access to open-space in our communities. We saw that before COVID and we think it will continue after it passes."

Some of the amenities being considered for the new Woburn location, which will include 356 one-and-two bedroom units and roughly 44 three-bedroom apartments, include:

• A special outdoor dog park with a dedicated pet amenity building;

• An outdoor pool and courtyard with gazebo covered sitting areas and grilling stations;

• Two other outdoor courtyards with green-spaces;

• and interior game rooms and a fitness center.

Based upon Fairfield Residential's current pricing estimates, should the City Council approve the special permit request, the average studio apartment tenant would pay between $2,100 to $2,300 a month at the new development, where rent for a two-bedroom unit would be priced at $2,400 to $2,800 a month.

Under the current iteration of the development plan, two buildings, each standing four-stories tall, will be constructed with attached courtyards. A total of 136 apartments will be included in those structures.

A larger five-story building would house another 309 units, while various accessory buildings and structures, including a pool and five-story parking garage, are also planned. According to the developer, the garage structure will be situated directly along the railroad tracks to block out the sound of approaching trains.

"We've done a number of developments along railroad tracks," said Hewitt, explaining that the design will also include sound-deadening building materials. "A lot of times, that's just where the opportunities are [now for new developments]."

Hewitt's firm is far from alone in banking on the New Boston Street bridge restoration's potential.

Based upon a planning study commissioned by Woburn Mayor Scott Galvin in 2017, the isolated industrial corridor by the MBTA's Lowell Line commuter rail tracks is already a major jobs center with some 370 businesses employing more than 5,000 people already in existence there.

With those businesses flourishing despite the fact that workers are doomed to a circuitous commute to their workplace through residential side streets, the new bridge is expected to act as a major traffic relief valve.

Officials from the Mass. Department of Transportation (MassDOT), expecting many New Boston Street workers to take a more direct route to and from I-93 through East Woburn once the bridge is constructed, have suggested that as many as 17,000 vehicle trips on residential side streets in North Woburn and Wilmington could be eliminated each day as a result of the project.

Based upon those findings, the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (MAPC), after analyzing the potential benefits from the bridge project, suggested the New Boston Street corridor could attract major investment dollars from high-tech manufacturing and bioscience corporations that are struggling to find new spaces within urban areas like Boston and Cambridge.

"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 as long as it can maintain a reservoir of industrial real estate," MAPC officials concluded in a 14-page report released in the summer of 2018.

Though the City Council has thus far had little negative to say about Fairfield Residential's proposal, Woburn officials are awaiting the results of a peer-reviewed traffic study.

More than a year ago now, city leaders also made clear that they wanted to freeze the construction of large-scale housing projects within the vicinity of Woburn's Commerce Way corridor.

Specifically, back in January of 2020, Woburn's mayor filed legislation with the City Council that sought to amend the Commerce Way Corridor Overlay District (CWCOD) by adding a new 10-unit per acre cap on new residential developments.

Prior the the council action in January, petitioners were allowed to pitch housing developments with a density of between 25-to-40 units per acre.

The owner of the New England Resins site and a second area landlord managed to escape the imposition of those revised zoning rules by filing preliminary subdivision plans — which preserved their zoning rights under the previous iteration of the CCWOD.

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