Sunday, March 13, 2011

LOCAL REAL ESTATE NEWS: Polaroid site work could start soon

Now that the state has given its draft approval for the first phase of redevelopment at the 120-acre Polaroid site off Route 128 in Waltham, the developer said work could begin this summer.

But developer Sam Park said even though he’s been given the go-ahead for constructing 280,000 square feet of retail and office space, he realizes the path toward his 1.28 million-square-foot goal will be long.

“We fully realize that the full project we want to build needs to be reviewed by other agencies,’’ said Park, the principal of Sam Park & Co. But he said that the first phase holds significant employment and shopping opportunities for area residents.

“It’s very exciting. I think we’re going to see a lot of jobs very soon,’’ said Park.

Park said about 500 jobs could be created through completion of the first phase, but the number is dependent on the tenants who lease space.

The state’s decision, released Feb. 25, grants a waiver to allow the project to move forward before completion of a full environmental review. The public has until March 23 to comment; after that, the draft decision can stand, be modified, or rescinded within seven days, said Richard Sullivan, head of the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

The reports are expected to be posted online soon under the Environmental Monitor link at

In his findings, Sullivan wrote that the majority of comments from the business community, regional agencies, local residents, and Waltham officials were supportive of the project. He said the first phase’s environmental impacts are insignificant, and the existing infrastructure can support it.

Park said the focus in phase one will be on bringing in national retailers, of which Waltham has few.

This desire was echoed by Mayor Jeannette McCarthy, who said she wants four things at the Polaroid site, which has been sitting vacant and attracting vandalism for years: national retailers; preservation of a 20-acre vernal pool on the Berry Farm parcel; a permanent easement for the portion of the recreational Wayside Rail Trail that crosses the site; and comprehensive reforms to alleviate neighborhood traffic congestion.

Park said the company is deeding Berry Farm to the city, and transportation solutions are the primary focus for the coming months and years. Both he and the mayor are hoping state and federal transportation officials allow direct-access links with Route 128/Interstate 95.

But until then, local traffic will surge, with an estimated 15,200 new vehicle trips on weekdays and 22,700 on weekends.

Local resident Paul Umbrello has been watching redevelopment plans for the property over the years as they morphed from a 1.8 million-square-foot project that was abandoned by the Related Cos. to its latest, smaller incarnation.

He has talked with Park, and said he supports the project.

“Obviously, we’re concerned about the additional traffic coming through the neighborhoods,’’ said Umbrello. “Whether it’s Sam Park & Co. or ABC & Co., whoever is going in there, anyone is within their right to build. I’d rather try and work with somebody so that it works out for everybody.’’

Park said he’s planning $20 million in mitigation projects up front. Detailed in the state’s decision, they include improvements to the Route 20 rotary; restriping, new signage and markings, and signal adjustments along Main Street; and a transportation management program that includes major public transit and ride-sharing initiatives.

“We’re looking to do it right, and right up front,’’ he said.

Park said the first phase will have about 160,000 square feet of retail space and 120,000 square feet of office space.

“The initial development is a small piece,’’ he said. “It’s all pretty much focused where the existing buildings are today.’’

Some parts of those buildings will be incorporated into the new development, he said, though most of the first phase will be new construction. He said that by this time next year, the steel structure could be going up.

Park said the first phase will take about two years to finish. In the meantime, he’ll be working with transportation officials to sort out the larger solutions for traffic mitigation, as well as with local communities and government offices to assess and address environmental impacts.

When the entire project is finished, there will be about 750,000 square feet of mixed-use retail space and 500,000 square feet of office space.

Park is finishing the 33-acre, $60 million Gloucester Crossing project. Mayor McCarthy said she talked with Gloucester’s mayor and confirmed that Park works collaboratively with communities in which he builds.

“I feel that he has not only the ability but the willingness to work with everybody,’’ she said.

Megan McKee Boston Globe March 6, 2011

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