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Walmart pushes for Somerville, Saugus sites

By John Laidler
Globe Correspondent / February 26, 2012
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Walmart plans to begin construction of a new store on Route 1 in Saugus this year after the project cleared its final regulatory hurdle.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation recently awarded a highway access permit for the project, the last state or local permit required for the planned development to get underway.

The 114,244-square-foot store would be built on 8 acres at 770 Broadway (Route 1 north), part of an overall 17-acre site that W/S Development has an agreement to purchase. The store, featuring both general merchandise and groceries, would be constructed on concrete pillars above the parking lot.

Walmart is currently working with W/S Development and others “to schedule the initiation of the project,’’ Christopher N. Buchanan, Walmart’s regional director of public affairs and government relations, said via e-mail. Buchanan said the project is expected to take about a year to complete, with the store targeted to open in the fall of 2013.

Even as it prepares to start the Saugus project, the retail giant intends “in the near future’’ to submit a permit application for its planned project to build a grocery store in Somerville’s Assembly Square, according to Buchanan.

The project is the first time Walmart has publicly announced plans to locate one of its smaller grocery-pharmacies, which it terms “neighborhood markets,’’ in New England.

The store would be located in the space formerly occupied by Circuit City, next to The Home Depot.

“Overall, we are excited about this project and look forward to submitting our application at some point,’’ Buchanan said.

A coalition of community groups in Somerville has voiced strong opposition to the proposed store, citing in particular concerns that the company would not pay fair wages to its employees.

“We can and we will certainly address these issues at the appropriate time,’’ Buchanan said.

The Saugus project appears to enjoy general support in the town, according to Planning Board chairwoman Mary Carfagna, whose board last August unanimously agreed to modify a 2007 site plan permit in order to accommodate the project.

“The board hasn’t received any negative feedback,’’ she said.

Carfagna said she is aware of some concerns expressed in town about traffic impacts from the project. But she said during the permit hearing, the board received “a very thorough traffic report and we spent several meetings’’ on the subject and were convinced that the impacts would not be significant.

The developers were able to demonstrate that much of the traffic heading to Walmart would be vehicles on the highway anyway, Cafargna said. And she said the plans provided for a safe flow of traffic into and within the site.

Town officials have said the project would provide Saugus with added tax revenue and bring needed jobs to the area. At the hearing, union employees spoke in favor of the project because of the jobs benefit.

Walmart estimates the project would create 125 permanent jobs, about half of them full time, according to Buchanan. He had no estimate of the number of temporary construction jobs, but said the company plans to hire a general contractor and “has committed to build this store using 100 percent union labor.’’

Carfagna said there are residents in town who “welcome a new place to shop for groceries,’’ noting that a Shaw’s supermarket on the Lynn Fells Parkway closed more than a year ago.

Walmart has agreed to invest in significant water and sewer improvements at the Route 1 site, improvements that Buchanan said would be undertaken as part of the construction of the store.

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

In 2007, the Planning Board issued site plan permits to Northbound LLC to erect an 82,518-square-foot retail building on the site, and a 55,001-square-foot retail building on an adjoining 9-acre site.

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

The projects never went forward, and Northbound in 2010 reached agreement to sell the land to Chestnut Hill-based W/S Development. The permit for the 8-acre site needed to be modified because the proposed Walmart would be larger than what the original approval allowed.

Even though the current plan calls for a larger store, the reduced footprint resulting from the plan to elevate the store will allow for a larger buffer zone to surrounding wetlands, Louis C. Masiello, vice president of development for W/S Development, said by e-mail last summer.

Masiello said the new plan also expands upon the requirements in the 2007 permit that the developers replace a town sewage pumping station and install 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.

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