The Gutierrez Company is continuing with its proposed zoning change article for the proposed Target and restaurant in the "Canyon Site" off of Wheeler Road near Middlesex Turnpike and Route 128, but the time to garner a recommendation from the Planning Board is coming to an end.
The proposal is to change the zoning of the 15.3 acre site to 'general business." Gutierrez has put forward a plan for the site which includes a retail and restaurant locations, which the company has stated will have a combined area of 165,000 square feet. Gutierrez has stated the plan is to build a Target store, and a representative from Target has presented before the board, with a restaurant to be decided later.
The final decision of whether or not to change the zoning is the responsibility of Town Meeting. The Planning Board, however, will make a recommendation to Town Meeting, which will likely carry weight towards the final decision. At last week's Planning Board meeting, Chairman Paul Roth said that because the March 29 meeting will be the final meeting before the April 14 election, when two current members will be replaced, he would like the board to make a recommendation at that time. The next town meeting is in May and Gutierrez has confirmed the company will seek to have the proposed zoning change article on the warrant.
Based on the questions from last week's meeting, some members of the Planning Board harbor doubts on the project. The two major issues brought up were the effectiveness of the traffic mitigation plan Gutierrez has committed to and what would happen if the zoning change were allowed but the plans with Target do not go forward.
Gutierrez Managing Director of Commercial Development Scott Weiss has stated the $3.2 million plan, which includes $2 million for Gutierrez and $1.2 million from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, will ease congestion along Middlesex Turnpike, especially in the areas of Wheeler Road and further down the corridor at Adams Street.
Previously, Weiss said that currently the traffic at the intersection of Wheeler Road, Middlesex Turnpike and Rte. 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 and 13 unrelated development projects that have been approved in recent years associated with other projects, the rating would be improved to a "D" with an average delay of 50 seconds.
The plan, in summary, is as follows:
At the Middlesex Turnpike, Wheeler Road and 128 Intersection, where is located, the plan calls for a number of changes (see first map at right):
- The exit ramp for Rte. 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 and are located (see second 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.
Further, during last week's meeting, Weiss said Gutierrez has committed to further improvements. He said they expanded the scope to incorporate improvements to traffic signals further down Middlesex, including at the south-bound ramp onto Route 128 and in front of Dunkin Donuts. He added there is also a component for some sidewalks, plantings and road-side lights that match the style of other parts of town.
Planning Board Member Joseph Impemba said that after reviewing the traffic mitigation proposal he was not convinced the benefits would be as significant as Gutierrez is claiming or that residents will benefit from the project.
"Quite honestly, the way I look at this is just as is it, a request for rezoning. The petitions are looking for our recommendation to change from the current situation to a much more noxious use," he said. "I'm sure Gutierrez will make money and Target will benefit, but I'm waiting to hear how the community would benefit. When I think about impact on neighbors and additional traffic, I'm not sure what positives will be."
Weiss disagreed, saying that a benefit of his company's plan is that all of the traffic mitigation plans will be completed at once, which is a benefit. He said there are other projects by other companies that include some of the same components of the traffic improvement plan, but none of them where completion of the entire plan is a condition of moving forward with development.
Most of all, the biggest issues will never be addressed to this level," he said. "We’re not just mitigating the traffic the project will create, we’ve set the bar higher. We took further steps to improve it to conditions that are better than they are today. You may say it’s a small improvement, but no other project will go to this level."
Additionally, two representatives from Massachusetts Department of Transportation were present at last week's meeting. They confirmed the DoT is in support of the project and is committed to the improvements outlined in the initial letter of support (attached to this story). They said the DoT's legal department is currently reviewing the more formal agreement between Gutierrez, Burlington and DoT.
If Target falls through:
Much of the discussion during last week's meeting also focused on covenant that Gutierrez has written up as an agreement between his company and the town. The document, in part, limits the plan to 165,000 square feet for restaurant and retail use. Some members of the board expressed concerns over what might happen if the zoning change is approved by Town Meeting but the plans with Target don't materialize. Specifically, as Roth pointed out, the language of the agreement limits the size on retail/restaurant, but he questioned if the size restriction would apply if Gutierrez decided to build office spaces, for example, rather than the originally proposed use.
"I want the document to reflect what you’re saying verbally," he said. "The document says you are asking Town Meeting to rezone and if they do you have limits on retail and restaurant, but if the final project is neither of those, its not clear those will also be limited."
Weiss said Gutierrez is committed to the plan as proposed as is not looking to make any changes.
"We can put in a line that says 'this project or nothing.'" Weiss said, later adding "We want to provide comfort that if we do not deliver on any one of these pieces, the project will no go forward. We’ll add a line to make that perfectly clear in the agreement. We’re not seeking to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes are do a bait and switch."
What are your thoughts on the proposal? Let us know in the comments section below.