There was a packed room at last night's Burlington Planning Board meeting as residents of Burlington and Lexington came out to express their worries concerning a in the area of Middlesex Turnpike and Route 128 (I-95).
The discussion on the project began with presentations by the , the entity looking to purchase the area of land under consideration from the state and from a representative of Target, the company that would, if the project moves forward, purchase a piece of the 15.3-acre parcel for a store location.
Gutierrez Managing Director of Commercial Development Scott Weiss began by outlining the proposed traffic remediation plan Gutierrez has made part of the agreement with the town if the zoning, which is currently undetermined, to general business, which would allow the Target store and a proposed restaurant location on the site.
Gutierrez is looking to have an article on the Jan. 23 Town Meeting to change the zoning of the parcel to general business, the next step needed for the project to move forward. Town Meeting Moderator Phil Gallagher explained to Patch that "zoning articles may not be considered by the Town Meeeting unless the Planning Board has closed its public hearing and issued a recommendation."
Weiss said he knew that traffic would be a concern for residents.
"We have heard the messages of traffic concerns in the area, and we are proposing sweeping traffic improvements," he said.
The plan, in summary, is as follows:
At the Middlesex Turnpike, Wheeler Road and 128 Intersection, where Best Buy is located, the plan calls for a number of changes (see 2nd map at right):
- The exit ramp for Route 128 will be moved slightly so it lines up with Wheeler Road.
- Middlesex Turnpike coming from Lexington will be widened and a left-turn lane from the turnpike into Wheeler Road will be added.
- Middlesex Turnpike from the Burlington Mall will be widened.
There are also changes in the plans for the intersection of Middlesex Turnpike and Adams Street, where Market Basket and H-Mart are located (see 3rd map):
- Lanes at Middlesex Turnpike at the intersection will be re-striped.
- The turn from Adams Street to Middlesex Turnpike will be cut further to allow easier exit.
Weiss went on to say that currently the traffic at the intersection of Wheeler Road, Middlesex Turnpike and Route 128 and the lights in the vicinity currently have a rating of "E" (on a scale of A to F), and that the current average delay at peak traffic periods is 62 seconds. Weiss claimed that if the improvements proposed by Gutierrez are completed, even with the addition of a Target, the rating would be improved to a "D" with an average delay of 50 seconds.
Residents in opposition to the project expressed doubts of this conclusion. Many were in attendance as part of a newly-formed group of area residents from Burlington and Lexington that are opposed, or at least have reservations, with the project.
Tom O'Brien of North Street and one of the property owners who's land is in both Burlington and Lexington and is a direct abutter of the project, said he didn't believe Gutierrez's claims that this plan would alleviate congestion on Middlesex Turnpike.
"The study predicts an extra 670 weekday trips per hour and 885 extra Saturday trips with the Target," he said. "That’s a lot of cars and even if the study is accurate that pushes a lot of cars into the intersection. The study says the project with ‘modicum’ traffic improvements will actually improve traffic, but that seems outlandish."
O'Brien added that the traffic study, which is very detailed, was proposed too close to the Jan. 23 Town Meeting to be fully studied.
"I don’t think the timing is right and this is way too quick, I think this project was first proposed just a month ago," he said. "There is no time, because of the speed, for peer review."
Others raised similar concerns, including that the project will only create a bottleneck further down Middlesex Turnpike, that the combined with Target will create more traffic than the plan can accommodate and that widening Middlesex will make it difficult to get to those businesses, like Trader Joe's, that don't have access points at traffic lights.
There were also concerns over using a piece of undeveloped land. Weiss told Patch that the land was contaminated from previous uses and is not ideal for recreational use. However, at least one abutter said she was concerned
"This will take last bit of green away from area," said Kelly Flaherty of North Street in Lexington. "I ask you to morally think about this. It is a poor decision to bring a store here."
Members of the Planning Board also expressed concerns over traffic. The majority of the sentiments expressed by board members, however, focused more on the timing of the proposal in relation to Town Meeting. Almost all of them said there was not enough time, especially considering that the weeks before Town Meeting are particularly busy and there are many projects, to properly review and follow up on the traffic study.
"With the time frame of January, there is no way," Vice-Chair Joseph Impemba said. "We need to sift through the realities down there before we can look at this realistically."
Chairman Paul Roth said he agreed that there wasn't enough time before Jan. 23 to get all the details.
"My concern is that what is going to Town Meeting is a request to change the zoning and the covenant with commitments and limitations from Gutierrez and what we've seen is only in one iteration of that and it was basic," he said. "I know Town Meeting is unwilling to take any verbal commitment whatsoever and that’s an essential element and I don’t see it coming all together."
In the end the Planning Board voted to continue the discussion during the Jan. 19 meeting.
After the meeting Weiss told Patch that despite the continuation, Gutierrez is still planning to bring the article to the January Town Meeting.
"I think we understand the resident's concerns," Weiss said. "This is new and different and people need to see the facts to understand ... we want to speak with people and let them know what we are doing. We see a real opportunity to address a long-standing traffic problem that will only get worse."
To do so, Weiss said his company is working to explain their proposal to residents and has set up a web site, burlingtoncanyon.com with project information. Additionally, Gutierrez will be hodling public informational meetings on the proposal, one from 4 to 6 p.m. on Jan. 17 in the Town Hall Annex basement meeting room and a second from 4 to 8 p.m. on Jan. 18 in the basement meeting room.