Sysco has plans for Lakeville Hospital site
Town Meeting voters approve tax breaks
One of the largest food service companies in the country is moving forward with plans for a $110 million storage and distribution center on the long-neglected Lakeville Hospital property — a project that would provide a welcome boost to the tax base of this rural community of 11,000.
“I’m so excited that the voters are going to give them a chance,’’ said selectmen chairwoman Nancy Yeatts, following Monday’s vote. She said that even with the tax concessions, local coffers would pick up $6 million from Sysco over the next 13 years.
Sysco Boston currently operates its Mas sachusetts distribution center out of Norton, but it had been scouting out locations for a new, state-of-the-art facility for the last several months. “We want to be able to offer our customers the most efficient warehousing and distribution possible,’’ said Mark Palmer, a spokesman at Sysco’s corporate headquarters in Houston.
The former Lakeville Hospital’s Route 105 location would afford Sysco quick access to a string of major highways — an essential ingredient in the food delivery business.
Backers of the project were delighted with the Town Meeting vote. “Lakeville needs a cash cow to drink from, and Sysco can provide the milk,’’ said former selectman Charles Evirs.
As might be expected, officials in Norton don’t want to lose a significant chunk from the town’s industrial tax base, which would happen when the Lakeville facility opens for business. Norton selectmen chairman Robert Kimball said local leaders there are trying to interest the company in using 500,000 square feet of space in the old General Motors building off Commerce Way.
“Sysco has been a good neighbor, and we want to keep them,’’ Kimball said. “We can also offer tax breaks, and maybe sweeten the pot.’’ The town receives about $500,000 annually from Sysco in real estate, personal property, and excise taxes.
Sysco’s proposal would be a major departure from what was originally planned for the 73-acre hospital site. The property, valued at $5.1 million, had been purchased by Newton-based National Development at auction in 2002. That company planned and permitted a major mixed-use development that would include a shopping plaza with a Stop & Shop, Target, and Chili’s restaurant, a 100-unit senior housing complex, and eventually an office park. The location was perfect for a commercial-residential blend, since it was close to the town’s commuter rail station.
The slowed economy, along with difficulties National Development experienced getting water and sewer service to the site, caused the ambitious project to languish. Lakeville currently gets a meager $52,000 annually in real estate taxes from the property.
Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District office, is happy the old hospital site may once again be used. “The mixed-use development would have been nice because of the proximity of the train station, but it’s been so long delayed, it’s good something is going forward there,’’ he said.
Smith said planned traffic improvements on Route 105, in the area of the Interstate 495 and Route 79 ramps, should address concerns raised during discussion of Sysco’s proposal. Currently ramps for Route 79 and 495 lie right next to each other, as they empty onto Route 105.
“Traffic lights are scheduled for the Route 495 interchange, and Route 79 is going to be relocated,’’ Smith said. “That will clear up a dangerous situation.’’
The distribution center would generate about 150 truck trips daily — a fact that has troubled some who live in nearby neighborhoods.
But Evirs said the neighbors are forgetting what a busy spot they lived in when the hospital was open. National Development’s plan would have added more traffic, he said.
“There will certainly be less congestion than with a project that has a supermarket and department store,’’ Evirs said. “And there won’t be a bar.’’
Palmer said Sysco has a long way to go before any work is done on the site. The plan must first pass muster with Lakeville’s Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals. Then a requested change in zoning, from mixed-use to industrial, must win the approval of a town meeting.
Yeatts said meetings over the next few months will give residents a chance to understand the project and have their concerns addressed by Sysco. It will also afford the company an opportunity “to prove they are the right fit for Lakeville.’’
Christine Legere can be reached at email@example.com.