After months of public consideration among the different town boards that deal with development, the was before Town Meeting last night and the majority of members voted to deny the project.
Members voted 39 in favor and 72 against the warrant article that called for a zoning change at the site off of Wheeler Road near the Middlesex Turnpike. The zoning change required a 2/3 majority but the article failed without even 50 percent of the Town Meeting votes.
The background on the project is that in the fall of 2010 the Gutierrez Company entered an agreement to potentially purchase the 15.3 acre piece of state-owned land that located adjacent to Wheeler Road and near the Middlesex Turnpike from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, often referred to as the 'Canyon Site.'
Gutierrez determined the piece of land would be ideal for a retail location and eventually began discussions with Target. The plan called for a Target store, owned by the retailer, and an adjacent restaurant location Gutierrez planned to lease to a restaurant group.
There was quite a bit of discussion on the project at last night's Town Meeting; the entire session was devoted to this one question. The meeting began with the boards weighing in with their recommendations. The Planning Board voted 4-3, before the , Jack Kelly and Barbara L'Heureux, a point that brought up during the general discussion as an argument against the project. The argument there is that Kelly and L'Heureux were vocally opposed to the project during the campaign and they both beat out Neil Kane, a proponent, and opponents said their election was a referendum by the voters on the proposal.
The Land Use Committee was unanimously against the project and the Board of Selectmen decided not to weigh in.
Following the board Scott Weiss, project manager for The Gutierrez Company, gave a presentation on the project and accompanying traffic mitigation project. Weiss was followed by a presentation by Ari Berman, an engineer and member of a Lexington-based group in opposition to the project (the site is adjacent to a residential section of Lexington) gave a oppositional view which questioned the traffic mitigation claims made by Gutierrez.
Town Meeting members then had a chance to express their opinions. For a couple of hours members took to the microphone to put forward their opinions with the other members. Most of this discussion revolved around the traffic plan, whether a Target would bring in more traffic than the mitigation plan would alleviate and how traffic would be impacted in the area in general.
In the end Town Meeting decided against the zoning change.
After the meeting Weiss said he was disappointed with the decision.
"Obviously we are disappointed with the outcome, we feel that we were offering a tremendous package of roadway improvements, tax benefits for the town and environmental clean-up," he said. "We are surprised but understand that the Town Meeting members didn't agree."
When asked if Gutierrez had any future plans in regards to the parcel, Weiss hinted the company will keep options open.
"It's a bit too early to tell," he said. "We have to go back and regroup and reevaluate our options."
Berman said he was happy with how things turned out.
"I hope we find a better use for the land and I'm confident we will," he said.
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