Well, here’s the fuss.
On July 8, a real estate developer appeared before the Board of Selectmen and discussed a “very, very preliminary” plan (right, click to enlarge) to purchase and commercially develop the 8+ acre Smith property in the center of Bolton. The developer was Bolton Crossing, LLC, represented by Roger Sherman of Chelsea and David Drugge of Bolton. The plans showed five buildings totaling nearly 80,000 square feet of mostly retail space. The retail space consisted of a 30,000 s.f. market, an 11,800 s.f. drug store, a 6,700 s.f. restaurant, and 16,000 s.f. of additional smaller retail spaces. In the middle of the site, looking a little like a traffic circle, was a ¼ acre “Town Green” (small park with probably a gazebo). Parking was shown interspersed throughout, and totaled 347 spaces according to the legend. Let me say that again. There were 347 parking spaces indicated.
Although the plans were represented as preliminary, the property is under agreement, environmental testing and engineering assessments are underway, discussions with potential retail lessees are occurring, and the developers have begun information discussions with a number of town boards. According to the developer the property is considered a brownfield site, the assessment of which represents a contingency in the sale agreement. The developer is hoping to close on the property by the end of July.
Though not well publicized, the meeting drew about 20 people during a week when many were on vacation. Reactions were initially in the form of questions. Comments ranged from qualified support to “this is completely inappropriate!” The fact that all existing structures would be razed (the garage and two houses, one of them historically significant) was voiced as a concern, as were traffic issues, environmental issues, economic issues, historic street-scape issues, and quality-of-life issues for nearby residents. More on this, including my reactions, in a post to follow.
Also shown on the drawings was a pass-through to properties abutting to the rear, and this drew several questions. There are two large, privately owned, land-locked properties to the rear. “It is a mistake in the drawings,” according to the developer.
The plan also hinges on a change to zoning in the town center. The property has reverted to residential status. An overlay to the residentially zoned district that defines allowable retail and commercial use is required for the project to move into permitting. To make that change requires a two-thirds vote at town meeting. And this, my friends, will be fuel for an interesting, soul-searching debate for the town.