A proposed development that could bring big-box retail stores and 250 apartments to Route 27 in Maynard has sparked a debate about whether the town should leap at the possibility of new property tax revenue or fight to retain its small-town feel.
The fate of the site hangs on an April 6 Town Meeting vote on whether to rezone the 58-acre property, once home to Digital Equipment Corp.
Opponents of the project have keyed in on the possibility of a Wal-Mart being included in the proposed 720,000-square-foot complex, dubbed The Shoppes at Maynard Crossing.
In early discussions, Town Administrator Michael Sullivan said, Southborough developer Capital Group Properties indicated it had been in discussions with Wal-Mart. Sullivan said the developer has since backed off on talk about the retail giant because it’s a “flash point” that often draws opposition.
“I think everyone knows that’s one of the tenants we’ve been talking with. They have an interest in coming to that area,” said Bob Depietri, a representative for the developer.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re going to do a deal with them,” he added. “I think it’s pretty well known, people in town would rather see a grocery-store anchored center, and we’re talking with three or four grocery stores as well.”
Paula Parker, director of community relations for Capital Group Properties, said the developer had talked with more than 30 potential tenants, but that no leases had been signed.
William C. Wertz, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said that “while we don’t have any new projects to announce in Maynard, we’re always evaluating opportunities to serve more customers” in Massachusetts.
The new zoning for the site would allow for two big-box retail stores, some smaller shops, and rental housing units.
Opponents say the project as currently planned is too large and would increase traffic while pulling shoppers away from Maynard’s downtown. But defenders argue that it would bring much-needed tax revenue and jobs into Maynard.
“I think people want to keep Maynard to scale,” said Elizabeth Steiner Milligan, a member of Maynard Citizens for Responsible Development, a group opposing the project. “We want it developed and we’ll work with a developer, but not when he comes in gangbusters and asks for everything.”
“Generally speaking, I think it would be good for the town,” countered Al Whitney, the chairman of Maynard’s Council on Aging and an outspoken proponent of the proposed development. Whitney noted that Capital Group Properties has even offered to donate an existing 50,000-square-foot building at the site to the town. “I can’t see any downside to it.”
Parker, the Capital Group Properties spokeswoman, said the company will respect Maynard’s small-town feel and not turn the site into a “behemoth.” The project will have “more of a village feel,” she said.
To make its case, Capital Group Properties is holding open houses at the site each Saturday morning this month.
Dawn Capello, chairwoman of Maynard’s Board of Selectmen, said she hopes to support the project, but she first needs to see an economic development impact study and an independent review of the developer’s traffic study. Those are scheduled to be released later this month, she said.
“When you have a developer who wants to invest quite a bit of money in your town, I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater,” Capello said, adding that specifics of the project will face scrutiny from the town’s Planning Board even if Town Meeting voters approve zoning for the general concept. “Any time a town can be more business-friendly, you’re putting yourself in a good situation.”
Officials haven’t yet determined whether the town could make use of the building that might be donated, but Capello said it could potentially be used for a community center and for school administration offices. “If that all works out, that could solve a lot of issues.”
The 58-acre parcel of land at 129 Parker St. (Route 27) was once home to Digital Equipment Corp., which also occupied space in what is now Clock Tower Place. The Parker Street site has been largely vacant for more than a decade.
Current zoning allows for some smaller retail space than what’s proposed. Sullivan, the town administrator, said a proposal by another developer that would have included retail and office space and 100 residential units fell apart with the collapse of the real estate market several years ago.
“My position, as well as many people’s position, is great, let’s work within the zoning we have,” said Sally Bubier, a former selectwoman and opponent of the current proposal. She said that zoning could be “tweaked,” but that the Capital Group Properties plan represents a “huge jump.”
“Everyone wants that property to be developed, myself included,” said Mary Brannelly, a realtor who lives near the site. “But not this proposal.”
Brannelly said she favors a grocery store at the site, but not big-box retailers. “It will absolutely change the character of Maynard forever, and I don’t think it will be in a good way.”
Capital Group Properties says the project would bring up to 600 part-time and full-time jobs to town, as well as 550 construction jobs. It also says the development would add more than $1 million to town coffers each year through new property taxes, although opponents say most of that would be eaten up by new services the town would have to provide, such as schooling for children who live in the new apartments.
Town Meeting is to begin at 10 a.m. at Fowler School on April 6, a Saturday. The zoning change requires a two-thirds majority for approval.
“I think most people in Maynard are listening to the opportunity, and they’re going to make up their minds as the rest of the data rolls in,” said Capello, the selectmen chairwoman. “My faith is in the folks at Town Meeting.”