Walmart approved for Route 1 site

By John Laidler
Globe Correspondent / August 25, 2011

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The proposed construction of a Walmart on Route 1 in Saugus took a major step forward last week when the project won approval from the Planning Board.

By a 5-0 vote, the board on Aug. 18 agreed to modify a 2007 site plan permit for the property in order to accommodate the proposed Walmart project, which is expected to create 125 mostly full-time jobs.

The 114,244-square-foot store would be built on eight acres at 770 Broadway (Route 1 north), part of an overall 17-acre site that W/S Development has an agreement to purchase.

“We are pleased at both the diligence and professionalism of the Saugus Planning Board in giving us a swift, yet prompt, thorough review and unanimous approval,’’ Christopher N. Buchanan, Walmart’s regional director of public affairs and government relations, said by e-mail.

The store, featuring both general merchandise and groceries, would be constructed on concrete pillars above the parking lot,

“The town is very supportive of the project,’’ said town manager Andrew Bisignani. “Walmart is a very big, stable company. They usually go into areas for the long term. They employ a lot of people from the area, and certainly the size and scope of the project is going to benefit our tax base substantially’’ and bring in building fees.

He said Walmart has also proven to be a “good partner’’ in the communities where it locates, noting that already as part of its Planning Board permit, it has agreed to invest in significant water and sewer system improvements at the Route 1 site.

Under an agreement between the firms, Walmart would lease the site from W/S Development to construct and operate its store.

The Planning Board in 2007 issued separate site plan permits to Northbound LLC to erect an 82,518-square-foot retail building on the eight-acre site, and a 55,001-square-foot retail building on an adjoining nine-acre site.

The combined 17 acres are owned by several corporate entities controlled by Northbound.

Northbound ended up not proceeding with its projects, and last year reached agreement to sell the land to Chestnut Hill-based W/S Development, according to Louis C. Masiello, vice president of development for W/S Development.

W/S Development needed to modify the permit for the eight-acre site because the proposed Walmart would be larger than what the 2007 approval allowed.

Planning Board chairwoman Mary Carfagna noted that the project enjoyed support from local union members, who were pleased at a commitment Walmart made to employ union labor on the job.

“Union workers were at every single meeting showing solidarity and speaking in favor,’’ she said. “Obviously, they’re going to provide a lot of jobs. The site’s been sitting there for five years as a dirt patch. We certainly need some type of retail store there.’’

Carfagna said the board spent considerable time looking at possible traffic impacts from the project, and ultimately concluded they would not be significant. She said the developers were able to show that much of the traffic going to Walmart would be vehicles that would be on the highway anyway. And she said the new plan provides for a safer flow of traffic in and out of the site than the one in 2007.

She said the board also focused on the proposal to have the store elevated, which she said would be “unique’’ for Saugus. She said the board concluded that the plan met all traffic flow and other requirements.

Masiello said that W/S Development also plans to construct the second building permitted in 2007, provided it is successful in finding tenants for it. He said his firm expects the Walmart project will enhance the marketing of that other building.

The Walmart project still requires approvals by the state Executive Office of Environmental Affairs and the Saugus Conservation Commission of changes to permits they previously issued for the site, and an approval from the Massachusetts Highway Department.

Buchanan said Walmart is “very confident that we will receive the remaining approvals at the state and local level within the next few months. Once those approvals are in place, we hope to start construction shortly thereafter.’’ He said construction generally takes a year.

The retail giant chose the site because “our internal market research has shown us that this area would be very well served by a Walmart that not only has general merchandise but fresh and affordable groceries,’’ Buchanan said.

“This project will benefit the town of Saugus economically with tax revenue and provide 125 jobs in a town that now has over 1,100 unemployed people,’’ he said. “We will also be providing savings to consumers with affordable, fresh produce and competitively priced general merchandise.’’

Masiello said that although the Walmart building will be larger than the store permitted in 2007, the reduced footprint resulting from the plan to elevate the store will allow for a larger buffer zone to surrounding wetlands.

He said the new plan also expands upon the requirements in the 2007 permit that the project include a replacement of a town sewage pumping station and the installation of 1,000 feet of water main. The new permit increases the required pumping capacity of the station and requires the installation of a back-up generator for the station and 700 feet of new sewer main.

“W/S Development is excited to be involved in a project such as this at a time when the economy is in such need of significant new private sector investment,’’ Masiello, whose firm has worked with Walmart on other building projects, said by e-mail.