Historic TM vote paves way for Plymouth Rubber project

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Hundreds turned out for the opening session of annual town meeting on Monday evening, May 11, in the CHS auditorium. (Jay Turner photo)

Hundreds turned out for the opening session of annual town meeting on Monday evening, May 11, in the CHS auditorium. (Jay Turner photo)

(Click here to watch the full video of Monday’s opening session courtesy of Canton Community TV.)

A clear two-thirds majority of more than 600 voters who packed the CHS auditorium Monday night offered their enthusiastic approval for the Plymouth Rubber redevelopment project — a historic action that Town Moderator Alan Hines said will “certainly change the look of Canton.”

Impacting Revere Street and portions of Neponset Street, the 35-acre parcel, used for industrial purposes since the days of Paul Revere’s copper mill, has now been rezoned as a mixed-use development that will include condos, apartments, and 4,000 square feet of commercial space. As a result of the special town meeting action and a planned purchase of land by the Canton Community Preservation Committee, nearly nine acres of the parcel will soon be in the control of the town for use as a public park.

The final actions taken Monday night around 11:15 p.m. marked the culmination of nearly eight years of various proposals brought by the Napleton Company and its subsidiary, Canton Holdings LLC.

Following permit applications and reviews by the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, and Conservation Commission, Canton Holdings will now be permitted to build 272 housing units, including 212 condominiums and 60 age-restricted apartments. In return, the town will assume ownership of the historic Paul Revere barn and rolling mill — once it is renovated by the developer — and use it as a focal point of a heritage park as well as potential town or school office space. In addition, Canton Holdings has agreed to spend $6 million on demolition and environmental cleanup of the property, subject to the review of the state Department of Environmental Protection as well as local health and conservation boards.

The approved project will also make use of the state’s District Improvement Financing (DIF) program to fund several area infrastructure improvements, including new sidewalks, improved access to the Canton Junction train station, repairs to the Canton Fire Station, and a new roadway linking Revere Street to Neponset and Norfolk streets. Canton Holdings, after meeting with Neponset Street neighbors last week, also agreed to move a proposed 10,000-square-foot private daycare facility from Neponset Street to a location near the Canton T station on Revere Street. This amendment was formally approved by selectmen just prior to the 7 p.m. session.

The project is expected to generate an estimated $1.25 million in annual tax revenue — compared to $43,000 for the currently vacant site — and will cost the town an estimated $235,000 per year in additional operating costs.

School Committee member John Bonnanzio, who studied the project’s impact on the Canton Public Schools, concluded that it will add between 15 and 25 students per year. To help mitigate the impact to the schools, Canton Holdings has agreed to give $2 million to the Canton School Department for capital improvements. One possible use of the funds, cited by the School Building Study Committee, is to rehab the Rodman building and create 10 additional classrooms, which could delay the need for a new school for another 15 to 20 years.

“I opposed this project for a long time in its various proposals because it was not positive and in the best interests of the schools,” said Bonnanzio. “This project, in my opinion, will have a positive effect on the town and the schools.”

Of the 272 housing units in the project, 27 will be set aside for moderate-income families, although the town will be credited with 72 units toward its state affordable housing percentage.

Ultimately, this year’s proposal came about through agreements and negotiations with 16 town boards, led by Selectmen Chairman Victor Del Vecchio, Planning Board Chairman Jeremy Comeau, and former Selectman Sal Salvatori, who was designated by the BOS prior to town meeting as a special municipal employee to act as an advisor to the town. The agreements were posted on the town website well in advance and the process was well vetted by the various town committees. Unlike in past years, there were no last-minute changes and no emergency meetings were held just prior to town meeting.

The project did have its share of opponents and several addressed the audience Monday night, including Planning Board Vice Chairman Chris Connolly, who was the lone board member to oppose the project. While he said it was the “best proposal so far,” he did not feel that the town should “settle for it.” He cited environmental and traffic concerns as well as the density of the housing, which he felt the town does not need, especially in downtown Canton.

Another vocal opponent was resident Alice Brown, who continued to question the town’s liability for future health claims if the site is not properly remediated, as well as the town’s liability if Canton Holdings decides to leave or goes bankrupt.

Factory Pond, which the town will not accept because it is heavily polluted, was constantly brought up as a source of concern, particularly as it relates to fishing and other activities. However, Darren Santos, an environmental engineer for GeoInsight, said a person would have to have a consistent exposure of 30 days in 30 years to have a potential health threat. Santos said once the industrial and residential cleanup and remediation is completed, the only activity that will be prohibited is the growing of vegetation. Del Vecchio added that no parcel of land would be accepted by the town unless it passes the reviews of all state and local boards.

Regarding the infrastructure improvements and the use of the DIF program, under the terms of the agreement approved Monday night, the upgrades would be financed through the sale of bonds and ultimately would be paid for using the additional tax revenue generated by the development. However, through various protections built into the agreement at the request of the town, Canton would become responsible for the agreed-upon costs only if the developer completes the project and new revenues generated by the development are sufficient to support the debt service.

If a default occurs, the town will have the right to access a letter of credit filed by the developer. The development agreement also contains a provision that if the developer does not intend to proceed with the project or if the developer fails to obtain the necessary permits, the agreement and the covenants will remain in full force until a subsequent town meeting has voted to repeal the zoning amendments or modify the agreement.

Attorney Paul Schneiders, who has represented the developer since the first rezoning effort in 2008, credited the efforts of Canton town officials and the openness of the town meeting voters for the ultimate approval of the project.

“No one gave up,” he said. “We listened to everyone and tried to do as much as possible. This should be a happy day for Canton. We are cleaning up an eyesore. This is also a testament to an open town meeting. This is democracy in action.”

See this week’s Canton Citizen for more highlights from Monday’s opening session, and look for continuing town meeting coverage in our May 21 edition. Not a subscriber? Click here to order your subscription today. (Special May discount: $10 off 1 year)

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