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NATICK

Project fends off lawsuit

Work to begin on Speen Street units

By Megan McKee
Globe Correspondent / September 19, 2010

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A 407-unit rental housing project in Natick that Framingham unsuccessfully sued to stop is moving forward.

Joshua Katzen, the Newton-based developer of the project, said he hopes to break ground in November.

The Chrysler Apartments complex will entail two high-rise buildings off Speen Street, near Route 30 and the Massachusetts Turnpike. It is being built under the state’s Chapter 40B affordable housing law, which means that some of the units will be rented at below-market rates based on income guidelines.

Katzen said the construction contract for the project has been awarded to Woburn-based Tocci Building Corp.

The project was unanimously approved by the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals in 2008. Natick’s community development director, Patrick Reffett, said the project put the town’s housing stock over the state’s 10 percent threshold for affordable units. This means that the town will have greater control over future housing projects, since developers will no longer be able to take advantage of the more lenient zoning requirements offered under Chapter 40B.

Framingham tried to stop the development by filing a lawsuit against the Natick zoning board and the developer. The town contended that it would suffer from the additional traffic and other costs generated by the apartment complex, which is slated to be built 950 feet from the Natick-Framingham line.

The suit was dismissed by Massachusetts Land Court Judge Charles Trombly, who ruled in May that Framingham had no authority to appeal the zoning board’s decision.

Framingham Town Manager Julian Suso said that the ruling gives his community no avenue to seek relief from the problems that he expects to stem from the apartment project. The lawsuit cited additional strains on traffic, public transportation, and emergency services.

But Katzen said Framingham has nothing to worry about.

“The project is not in Framingham, and Framingham’s concerns have been adequately addressed’’ by Natick’s zoning board, the developer said. “I think there are no real concerns.’’

Chrysler Apartments will be built across from the 183-unit Cloverleaf Apartments, which Katzen also developed under Chapter 40B; 25 percent of its units are rented to income-eligible residents, based on a government formula. He said it is at 100 percent occu pancy, which indicates the area needs more housing.

“There’s a lot of employment. There’s good access to the turnpike,’’ and both sites have a view of Lake Cochituate, said Katzen. He said the MathWorks Inc. expansion, along with the nearby TJX, Staples, and Boston Scientific office complexes, provide ample potential renters.

Rents for market-rate units at Chrysler Apartments will range from $1,500 for 650-square-foot studios to $2,100 for 1,100-square-foot, two-bedroom apartments, according to Michelle Dern, an associate of Katzen. And the affordable, below-market rents will be about $1,000 for one-bedroom, 745-square-foot apartments and $1,250 for two-bedroom units, she said.

In the debate that swirls around 40B projects, critics often point to the additional strain on neighborhood schools that can accompany high-density housing. But both Reffett and Katzen said they don’t expect a lot of children at the apartments.

Reffett said a study commissioned by the town anticipates only a handful of school-age children in the units, since high-rise apartments tend to attract younger professionals without families. And Katzen said since there won’t be units with more than two bedrooms, large families aren’t likely to rent.

Reffett said that when the town approved the development’s comprehensive permit, Natick’s affordable housing stock reached 10.4 percent.

“We knew that the benefit of having the 10 percent would allow us to defend ourselves,’’ he said, and give officials more leeway.

“It gives us the ability to pick and choose the kinds of things that fit for the community.

Reffett said the project was marked by little opposition in Natick because the only nearby residences are the Cloverleaf Apartments and the condos at the Natick Collection, which had few occupants when the Chrysler project was going through the permit process.

Katzen has committed $1.75 million in mitigation funds to Natick, with $1 million to be put toward the reconstruction of the fire station on Speen Street in West Natick.

Katzen, who develops residential and commercial properties in New England and in Florida, said his residential developments have centered on revamping existing properties, and that the Cloverleaf complex, which opened in 2008, was his first new residential housing development.

Megan McKee can be reached at megan.mckee@gmail.com.

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