After a lengthy discussion at last night's Planning Board meeting, the members voted 4-3 to favorably recommend to Town Meeting that it approve the zoning change for the proposed "Canyon Site" project for a Target and restaurant off of Wheeler Road.
Planning Board members John DeFrancesco, Ernest Covino Jr., Jayne Hyde and Ann Cummings voted in favor of the positive recommendation. Chair Paul Roth, Vice Chair Joseph Impemba and member Paul Raymond voted against.
The vote was a recommendation only. In order for the proposed project to go forward the zoning change will need to be approved by Town Meeting by a 2/3 majority.
Much of the discussion centered around traffic and commitments by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DoT). Gutierrez Managing Director of Commercial Development Scott Weiss and attorney Mark Vaughn of Reimer and Braunstein addressed questions from the board and continued to make the pitch for the benefits of the project and the effectiveness of the proposed traffic mitigation plan.
Find details of the . The plan includes commitments from Gutierrez for improvements on Middlesex Turnpike at the 128 North intersection, the Adams Street intersection and work on the turnpike itself, estimated at $2 million, through the company has committed to making the improvements despite cost. The plan also includes $1.2 million form DoT for additional improvements and land takings to widen the road.
Cummings said she was glad that someone was willing to address traffic in the area, which is a recognized problem.
"I think the improvements you’re talking about will help the lower part of Middlesex Turnpike," she said. "It will not make it free flowing or perfect, but you will mitigate more than just what you create. This is a great project and I'm happy somebody is willing to step up and help all the great businesses down there. There are a lot of great businesses in that area and I don’t want to see them leave Burlington."
DeFrancesco said he was also confident the traffic plan would lead to improvements.
"In my opinion, I’ve heard the petitioner present the traffic study and hopefully this project will make some improvement and that is what I’m going on."
Raymond and Impemba were not convinced the plan would yield the touted mitigation results.
"I’m skeptical," Raymond said. "I think the improvements you are proposing should be done whether or not your project goes forward but I just think the Target and restaurant plan is too much."
Imbemba said he saw benefits for Gutierrez, the DoT which is selling the land, and Target, but not for Burlington.
"I feel that what has been presented is not a benefit for the town," he said. I feel there is a lot of benefit to a lot of parties, but think the only thing residents will get is a bunch of traffic. I’m not fully convinced traffic will be mitigated at all and still feel there will be the same amount and everyone else will walk off with a windfall."
Roth agreed, and said he would like to see more of a commitment from the DoT. At the last meeting he spoke about other possible projects the DoT could undertake in Burlington to create what he called the "wow factor," meaning a big benefit to the town and its residents.
There was an update on the DoT issue before the meeting, but that too caused a bit of a stir. The department sent a letter confirming its previous commitments to the project and highlighted an additional $60 million in works it is planning for Burlington and the surrounding area, including repaving of sections of Route 128. Roth, however, said that the projects were not enough to convince him and that he felt the DoT, which originally took the land from Burlington residents and is now trying to sell it to a private party, was responsible to do more to address traffic issues in town. Also, the letter arrived only hours before the meeting, leaving members little time to review its details.
"What is the benefit to the town?" he asked. "They are doing re-striping and creating an extra lane for the project, but that doesn't do it. I'm still looking for the wow factor. The DoT has said they will discuss other items in the future, but that is not a compelling argument."
Members of the public also spoke at the meeting, most of them raising concerns over the effectiveness of the traffic proposal and a couple suggesting the decision be postponed to a later meeting. However, with the upcoming election, last night was the last meeting for two members, DeFrancesco and Hyde, and Roth said he wanted their input since they had been part of the three-month discussion.
Finally, there was some discussion on an emergency exit from the proposed site. At a previous meeting members of the board said an alternate exit was an important aspect of the plan and asked Gutierrez to address the issue. At last night's meeting Weiss said Gutierrez was committed to providing an alternate route and said there were plans in the works on how to do so but refused to give details. His silence on the details raised concerns by some board members and members of the public.
Following the meeting, Weiss said he was happy to have support from a four out of seven members of the board.
"I'm pleased a majority of the board voted favorably for the plan," he said. "I look forward to bringing the details to Town Meeting. We feel tremendous good will come from this project and Town Meeting will see that."
Weiss said that in the meantime Gutierrez will continue to present information to Town Meeting members, residents and abutters. There will be further discussions on the plan and Gutierrez will update the site it created for the project, burlingtoncanyon.com with updated information, including the new letter from DoT.
Burlington Patch will also carry further updates on this story.