Burlington Town Meeting members on May 21 face a big and long-anticipated decision after hearing from proponents and opponents of the off of Wheeler Road, near the Lexington line.
The background on the project is that in the fall of 2010 the Gutierrez Company entered an agreement to potentially purchase the 15.3 acre piece of state-owned land that located adjacent to Wheeler Road and near the Middlesex Turnpike from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, often referred to as the 'Canyon Site.'
Gutierrez determined the piece of land would be ideal for a retail location and eventually began discussions with Target. The plan calls for a Target store , owned by the retailer, and an adjacent restaurant location Gutierrez is planning to lease to a restaurant group.
In order for the proposed project to go forward, the zoning change will need to be approved by Town Meeting, by a two-thirds majority.
Town Meeting Moderator Phillip Gallagher proposed at the end of the first session of Town Meeting this week that because he anticipates a lot of debate and discussion on the associated warrant article, members should take the issue up first thing on Monday, May 21. That was agreed upon by the members in attendance.
Gallagher also proposed a plan for how to conduct the discussion Monday night, which was approved by Town Meeting. The plan gives time for the proponents and opponents to make formal presentations and allows the different boards to weigh in and explain any recommendations in favor or against. Each Town Meeting member will also have a chance to speak, which will be done in turn based on numbers handed out as the members arrive. Gallagher said that members from the Lexington abutters, many of whom pay some property tax to Burlington, will also be given time to speak. (See the full plan in the PDFs to the right).
Burlington Patch has carried quite a few stories on this issue; see links at the bottom of this article.
On Monday the Burlington Board of Selectmen signed the "Declaration of Development Restrictions and Development Agreement" and the "Escrow and Mitigation Agreement," which require Gutierrez and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DOT) to uphold commitments of funding and to complete traffic improvements associated with the Canyon proposal before occupancy permits are granted.
The documents (both included in the PDFs at the right of this article) are only valid if Town Meeting passes the zone-change article. If the article passes, the documents will be held to the parcel for 99 years, attorney Mark Vaughn of Reimer and Braunstein explained. The documents hold Gutierrez and the DOT to the following measures in regards to the Canyon site:
- No more than 165,000 total square feet of retail and restaurant space at the site
- No drive-thru service for fast food uses
- Consist of only retail, restaurant and related uses
- No more than 15,000 square feet of the 165,000-square-foot cap can be developed as separate restaurant space
- Not to exceed the traffic estimates contained within the traffic reports provided to the Planning Board during the rezoning hearings.
- Must provide for a secondary emergency access
- Prior to any building construction, all land acquisition shall be completed.
- Prior to opening any space for business, all of the traffic improvements as summarized in the Traffic Improvement section shall be completed.
- Following completion of all the improvements identified above and the opening of the Canyon development, a traffic study of the Middlesex Turnpike corridor to identify additional future needs will be completed at no cost to the Town.
- All remaining funds (approximately $500,000 to over $2,500,000) will be available to implement additional improvements, enhancements and beautification on Middlesex Turnpike.
No vote was needed by the board to sign the documents. Scott Weiss, Managing Director of Commercial Development at the Gutierrez Company, said he was asking the selectmen to sign them, specifically the escrow agreement, because DOT will not sign the agreement without it being first signed by the town.
"We are pleased the Board of Selectmen signed the agreements, which upon Town Meeting approval, will obligate us and the DOT to execute our proposal, including perhaps the only opportunity to significantly improve traffic on Middlesex Turnpike south of Route 128," said Weiss in a released statement after the meeting. "As the landlord of an adjacent office building, we have a vested interest in ensuring that our traffic improvement strategy succeeds. The development agreements protect the interests of the Town and guarantee that Gutierrez and MassDOT uphold our commitments to Burlington."
Weiss and Vaughn also asked the board for a formal recommendation of the warrant article for Town Meeting. Vice Chair of the Board Robert Hogan made the motion, saying he thought the traffic mitigation proposal would help with flow on Middlesex Turnpike.
"As I've said before, I'm in favor of this and I think it might be our last bite at this apple," he said. "It's good for the town in that traffic needs to be cleaned up and even though this would add more traffic it will still make that section of the road better."
The motion was supported by Selectman Michael Runyan. Chair of the Board Ralph Patuto voted against it and selectmen Walter Zenkin and Daniel Grattan abstained, giving the motion a 2-1-2 result. Patuto told Patch after the meeting that despite his own feelings on the project, he didn't think the board was in a position to make a recommendation on the project.
Also since our last story, Gutierrez put out a second video featuring Weiss outlining the traffic mitigation proposal. To ensure all readers have all the information available, we have included the video in this article.
Stories on proposed Target project (newest first):
Letters to the Editor
Editor's note: In the original version of the story Daniel Grattan written as Michael Grattan