Town reaches accord with University Station developer

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The Canton Board of Selectmen announced a sweeping agreement last week with the developers of University Station, formerly Westwood Station — marking an end to one of the longest and costliest legal battles in town history and paving the way for construction of the long awaited mixed-use project on the Westwood/Canton border.

Source: www.universitystationwestwood.com

Source: universitystationwestwood.com

The 21-page “cooperation agreement,” unanimously endorsed by selectmen last Tuesday and subsequently approved by the developers, satisfies several of Canton’s core demands with respect to traffic impacts and outlines a mitigation package for the town worth more than $2.8 million.

Perhaps most notably, the development team, collectively known as Westwood Marketplace Holdings, has agreed to become a willing partner in Canton’s quest to secure key infrastructure improvements along the Dedham Street Corridor and will limit a portion of the development, if necessary, until the roadway improvements are substantially completed by the state — possibly within the next three years according to the latest state timeline.

Selectman Victor Del Vecchio, speaking via conference call on Friday along with Selectman Bob Burr, characterized the settlement with University Station as a “major victory for the town of Canton.”

“I’m personally just pleased that we brought this to a closure,” said Del Vecchio, one of the chief negotiators on the project going back to its original incarnation under Cabot, Cabot & Forbes. “This is a framework, and the framework provides for significant improvements that help to alleviate concerns we have voiced over the past six years.”

The latest plan for the site, which is situated on a 130-acre former industrial park on University Avenue, calls for a mix of retail shops, luxury apartments, an assisted living facility, offices and a hotel and is expected to top out at 2.1 million square feet — less than half the size of the original Westwood Station proposal under CC&F. The developers have also agreed to locate the primary entrance, including main identification signage and other public amenities, off Interstate 95 at Blue Hill Drive and not on Canton Street (Dedham Street) as was previously contemplated.

In addition, the developer has agreed to reconstruct the University Avenue/Canton Street intersection, adding two northbound lanes to further encourage use of University Avenue for access to the project, I-95, and the MBTA station.

As part of the mitigation package, Canton will receive roadway improvements at eight intersections: Dedham/Washington, Route 138/Washington, Route 138/Randolph, Route 138/Green Lodge, Dedham/Shawmut, Dedham/Elm, Neponset/Chapman, and Washington/Chapman. The work is valued at $1.37 million and includes the addition of turning lanes, new signage and signals, repaving, and traffic monitoring.

In addition to the roadway improvements, Canton is also slated to receive $1.35 million in discretionary funds to address project impacts, plus other assorted “recoveries,” including $75,000 for reimbursement of legal and engineering expenses.

Burr said the end result was a deal that was fair to both sides. “All along the Board of Selectmen has not objected to this project,” he said. “We wanted to make sure that Canton was made whole and was not adversely impacted.”

In terms of the Dedham Street Corridor, the developer has agreed to fund a traffic monitoring program and report back to the town on an annual basis. If the analysis indicates that traffic is exceeding capacity, then Westwood Holdings will limit its commercial development to 1.1 million square feet until the necessary improvements are made.

“So under this scenario, a portion of this project would not go forward if the traffic monitoring determines that the corridor is not working as it should work,” explained Del Vecchio.

In the meantime, the state has also demonstrated its commitment to the Dedham Street project, adding it to the state-funded Canton Interchange Project and accelerating the start date by as much as five years.

Per a recent change in the Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transportation Improvement Program, the project is now slated to begin in FY2015 and could be complete within the next three years, according to selectmen. This includes the construction of an off-ramp from I-95 northbound; widening of a portion of the street from two to four lanes; widening of the bridges over Amtrak and the Neponset River and replacement of the bridge over I-95; and the installation of signals at four intersections.

Burr said the interchange project will go a long way toward solving a traffic problem that has plagued the town and the region for decades — long before Westwood Station was ever proposed. At the same time, he said it was Canton’s vocal opposition to the project “absent infrastructure” that brought the issue to the forefront and propelled the Dedham Street improvements “onto the state’s radar screen.”

And the state, in turn, played an “instrumental role” in brokering the agreement with University Avenue, according to both selectmen.

“The Department of Transportation and the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, in connection with Representative Bill Galvin, were all very important players in this process,” noted Del Vecchio. “Having gone through this process with the town of Canton, the state was well aware of the need for infrastructure improvements.”

Del Vecchio also praised the Westwood Holdings team for their willingness to negotiate and for recognizing the regional implications of their proposal.

“Like any negotiation, there’s a give and take process,” he said. “We, along with town counsel and our special counsel, spent many hours haggling over important details, but I think it’s fair to say that both sides were aware of the regional needs.”

As for all of the time and money that was spent battling the original proposal, both Del Vecchio and Burr agreed that it is now a “sunk cost.” However, both felt that it was worth the risk and that it ultimately produced a “great result” for the town.

“Several years ago we brought the town together,” said Burr, “and we were forthright that this was going to be a protracted, cost-involved issue but that the ramifications for the town of Canton of doing nothing were so great that we all felt that we had to do it.”

“We spent what was required to defend Canton’s position, period,” he said.

“We felt that the only way, as a small community, we could bring this to the forefront and demonstrate to the developer that we were seriously committed to our rights,” said Del Vecchio, “was by employing town counsel and special counsel and a traffic firm to make our case — and we made our case.”

“I’m just glad this is behind us,” added Burr. “We appreciate the support of the residents of the town and their patience in this process. I think the outcome of this puts Canton in a much better position in the future.”

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avatar Posted by on Aug 22 2013. Filed under News, Town Government.
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