Thursday, September 30, 2010

LOCAL NEWS: Poor economy derails ‘green’ housing plan

Chelsea was slated to become a model of “green’’ residential development and innovation in 2011 with the completion of lofts along the city’s high-potential waterfront, where the Chelsea River meets Mill Creek.

Marketed in 2007 as the region’s “greenest’’ and “most ambitious real estate project,’’ the 350-unit Forbes Park mixed-use development was going to have energy-efficient “hybrid lofts,’’ most of which would have been powered by an onsite wind turbine and solar arrays, and was going to provide its residents with a shared fleet of electric cars.

The development struck the right chord with those wanting to live a greener lifestyle, and the deposits to re serve units started pouring in.

Then the economy nose-dived.

Urban Design and Development, the project’s Somerville-based developer, was unable to get enough funding to continue building on the 18-acre brownfield property, the same fate that fell upon countless other construction projects nationwide as the country sank into a recession. Today, a 240-foot tall wind turbine stands on the abandoned former printing factory site, a constant reminder of what next year could have looked like.

“The Forbes project is a victim of the poor economy,’’ said City Manager Jay Ash. “Construction activity has been halted, deposits have been returned. The developer and lenders involved are having discussions as to what will become of the site.’’

“Forbes Park has been impacted by the trauma associated with the negative national economy,’’ developer Blair Galinsky said in an e-mail. “However, the realization of outstanding potential for the most ‘green’ development in the nation remains our goal and we are working with a variety of concerned parties to identify the most efficient and effective way to restore the project to a vibrant and active status. It is a challenge, but we think the goal [is] well worth the effort.’’

James Bill, director of marketing and sales for the Forbes project, said financing was problematic after the downturn in the economy. Still, people’s excitement over the development, likely fueled by the designs showcased on the project’s website, has not waned.

“I still get phone calls about this,’’ Bill said.

The derailment is a particularly hard blow for the city, said Roseann Bongiovanni, city councilor and associate executive director of the nonprofit Chelsea Collaborative.

“It was supposed to be this model and here it is, completely dead,’’ Bongiovanni said. “The city can’t do anything until Forbes gets this funding set. We anticipated all this economic development and then it just stopped.’’

Urban Design and Development still has an active permit with the city, said John DePriest, Chelsea’s planning and development director. The project’s redevelopment companies, Forbes Park LLC and Seawall Realty LLC, in May were fined approximately $19,700 by the state Department of Environmental Protection over permitting issues, and the agency required them to do further cleanup to settle numerous environmental violations at the site. According to Joe Ferson, spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection, the firms are complying with terms of the consent order and moving forward with the cleanup, slated for completion by Dec. 31.

“The city’s point of view is, yes, we would’ve liked to see the development go forward not only because it would’ve provided an innovative type of development, but also because of the housing and revenue opportunities,’’ DePriest said.

“It’s not totally inactive — they’re still doing environmental testing and still looking for ways to move the project forward.’’

The economy may not have been the project’s only deterrent. Forbes Park, Ash said, may have been too ambitious.

“The Forbes has always been a complicated project; there are a lot of complications in getting that done,’’ Ash said.

“It’s possible that some of the treatments that the Forbes development was going to feature might not be cost-effective or viable at this time.

“If this project failed while other projects did well, it would be a blow, but it’s not a blow,’’ he said. “The Forbes will get done one way or the other.’’ ’’

Katheleen Conti Boston Globe September 18, 2010

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