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Traffic concerns force delay in Route 3 development plan

Planning Board seeks more data

By John Laidler
Globe Correspondent / January 26, 2012
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Amid traffic concerns, a developer seeking a zoning change to bring a Target store and a restaurant to a Route 3 site in Burlington has requested a delay to allow town officials more time to study the proposal.

The Town Meeting that convened on Monday was set to consider the request from Burlington-based Guttierez Co. that the 15.3-acre site be rezoned a General Business District in order to accommodate the proposed development.

Planning Board members recently said they needed more time to review the plan, and in particular to study how the developer proposes to address concerns about traffic. The board makes recommendations to Town Meeting on zoning articles.

“We feel that it’s at a fairly early stage and we are still gathering a lot of information,’’ said Joseph A. Impemba, a Planning Board member.

Impemba said traffic will be a key issue for the board in considering potential development of the site, located at the westerly end of Wheeler Street just south of the Route 3 and 128 interchange, and west of the Middlesex Turnpike.

“I, as well as the rest of the board and many members of the community, have concerns about that stretch of the Middlesex Turnpike,’’ he said. “It’s probably the busiest stretch of roadway in the town. It’s certainly a very sensitive area. It’s something we need to look at very carefully.’’

Guttierez officials say they are aware of the concerns, but think they can be fully addressed through roadway upgrades the firm and the state have committed to make as part of the project.

“We really rolled up our sleeves and worked with our engineers and the town to understand the primary concerns and developed a fairly extensive package of traffic improvements in that area,’’ said Scott Weiss, Guttierez’s managing director of commercial development.

The site, located next to a Best Buy store, is often referred to as “the Canyon’’ because it was excavated in the 1950s as part of the planned extension of Route 3 into Boston that ended up terminating in Burlington.

The state Department of Transportation declared the property surplus in 2010 and sought requests for proposals from prospective buyers. Guttierez was awarded the bid and reached an agreement with the state to purchase the land.

The plan calls for development of up to 165,000 square feet that would include the Target store and a restaurant yet to be determined. Town officials have said the project requires a zoning change since the land was zoned residential prior to the state acquiring it, and would revert to that status if it returns to private ownership.

Weiss said his firm was interested in acquiring the site because it owns an adjacent 250,000-square-foot commercial building and additional land just south of where it is fully permitted to build another 250,000 square feet of commercial space.

As owners of those properties, “we certainly wanted to be actively involved in the planning up there,’’ he said. “We feel the restaurant/retail development would be a great attraction and amenity to the nearby office employees, as well as customers and residents in the community.’’

Guttierez has estimated its project would generate $750,000 to $1 million in annual revenue for the town, and create 200 temporary construction jobs and 200 to 240 permanent jobs.

Weiss said the traffic improvements are intended to not only address the impacts of the proposed project, but to help alleviate the longstanding bottlenecks that have plagued the area, and to help the roads absorb additional traffic from future developments.

Guttierez is proposing to spend $2 million to upgrade the interchange of Route 128, Wheeler Road, and the Middlesex Turnpike. The state Department of Transportation has committed to spending another $1 million from the proceeds of the land sale to make improvements at the Middlesex Turnpike/Adams Street interchange, and to spend $200,000 to study other possible upgrades along the turnpike in that area, according to Weiss.

The various improvements, including the addition of turning lanes, signal system upgrades, and streetscape beautification, would encompass some upgrades that Guttierez and other developers had agreed to as part of the permitting for projects that have been approved but not yet built.

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