What about UMass Crossing?

One of the studies often cited in discussions around development in the town center is the Sustainable Village Center Planning Study (2008), prepared by the Dept. of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning at UMass/Amherst. It is commonly referred to as the “UMass Study” and it is worth a look.

In the concluding sections, the UMass group proposed a vision for the Smith property and immediately surrounding area. The UMass vision is not without its own issues, but it does represent a very different approach compared to the Bolton Crossing proposal, with different priorities. I’ll call it UMass Crossing. See bottom of post for schematic drawings (from pp. 179-185 of final report). The study proposed mixed-use development and public space in the center:

  • Retail/office—a cluster of a half-dozen buildings containing small businesses, scaled appropriately to surrounding buildings in the center (ie. massing that is in line with say the Cracker Barrell brick store), and positioned close to the street along a widened sidewalk in a village setting. Unknown square footage.
  • Residential—dense housing (townhouse style) along a new street with separate access through the Houghton Building lot. (Obviously some issues here in terms of location and current property ownership.)
  • Community—the centerpiece of the UMass concept is a community center with amphitheatre and outdoor public space (the “Town Center”). This represents the single largest use of space on the Smith property.
  • Parking—50-60 total off-street parking spaces for retail, broken into three locations on both sides of Main Street. Another lot of about 25-30 spaces is located near the residential housing.

What is intriguing about these points is how they differ from the Bolton Crossing proposal. With so much land devoted to public-use space, the UMass vision seems to infer a public/private partnership in order to achieve a more desirable balance of scale and land use in the center. Could it be that in order to make the financials work for something of a much smaller scale (i.e.  smaller than what is being proposed by the Bolton Crossing developers), some kind of creative partnership is needed? Is the Bolton Crossing developer truly responding to community desires, or is the weight of the fixed costs (land purchase, contamination clean-up, basic site development) pushing up the scale of the plan in order to reach satisfactory return-on-investment targets?

Question of the day: Is a public/private partnership a direction that should be explored with respect to development in the town center? What do you think?


Fig. 1: The UMass concepts for the Smith property and surrounding area include scaled retail clustered along Main Street, a large community space with a center and amphitheater, townhouses along a new back street, and modest parking areas distributed throughout.

Fig. 2: UMass concept for town center, looking north over Wattaquadock to intersection of Wattaquadock and Main. Retail along Main Street to the left and community center visible in the distance.

Fig. 3: Prominent in the UMass concept for the Smith property use is a community space and outdoor area including an amphitheater.

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25 Responses to What about UMass Crossing?

  1. Dave Wylie says:

    This is very helpful. You can’t fight something with nothing. Need to show people that there are better alternatives.

    There is no doubt that what the Bolton Crossing people have shown us so far is just the beginning – the landlocked owners of the vast interior are bound to get on board – already have in fact, and one can be certain, given the profits to be had, that they will break through at the other end, on Harvard Road.

    This calls for Bolton’s biggest yet civic effort. Everything of value is involved: the long, long term future, preservation, conservation, 40B, tax rate, beauty vs. squalor, signage, traffic, livability, everything. The civic obligation eclipses even the library and the Winery.

    Town government must play a role. Private money must be raised to get professional advice and help with the financing (like the Winery and the Library). Conservation money must be found. Property owners must be rewarded for their patience and investments. Developers must operate transparently and in partnership with public and private public interest groups. This must not be the usual make a giant proposal, cut it back until you have the votes and everyone is mad at everyone else, and finally get Town Board approvals that will transform Bolton into another Roadtown USA.

    Let’s be patient with one another, tough as nails, creative, persevering, and loving of our heritage.

  2. Richard F. Jones says:

    It’s hard to imagine a better plan for the center of Bolton.

  3. Nancey says:

    Now THAT I like! love the fact that there will not be an intersection across from Watoquodoc, it looks lovely and the businesses on the street, nice touch, parking behind. I agree with the traffic calming comment, indeed there are experts in this area, we use them all the time in Concord. they did such an improvement recently to Concord Academy- they made the sidewalks wider for pedestrians and the people in motor vehicles have to deal with it. and they do!

  4. JP says:

    Agree — UMass plan is far better than Bolton Crossing plan. Love the small shops and the large community centerpiece. Would also love to see sidewalks on 117 going west of Harvard Rd. How nice it would be for those of us who live west of Harvard Rd to be able to walk downtown to the library, the shops, and town common. Improved pedestrian access to those things makes so much more sense than widening the road for more vehicular traffic to a grocery store.

  5. Anthony says:

    UMass Crossing is a wonderful concept, but it’s just that, a concept. So, let’s do it. Let’s have a town vote and raise the multi-millions to make it a reality. Why not? Well, let’s see…maybe it’s because Bolton doesn’t have the appropriate tax base (i.e., the size and appropriate mix of commercial and residential). It would probably double our already high taxes . But, if you can convince enough residents…

    Back to reality, I like the concept, but the choice at hand is not UMass Crossing versus Bolton Crossing, it’s taxpayer funded clean-up costs / eyesore versus Bolton Crossing. The clean-up costs are real. (Once the environmental assessment is done, I think the town will have to seriously consider budgeting for the liability.)

    The question I have is what is the ultimate objective for the town? I, for one, have no idea what it is. What I do know is that today Bolton is a rural middle to upper class bedroom community. It’s not a farm town, despite a few farms. And, Bolton of the future will not be Bolton of the past. It’s a beautiful town (with lots of trees), but it’s not, relatively speaking, an historic town despite the few historic buildings. What’s more, as nice as Bolton is, Bolton is not free from eyesores; the Smith property is but one of many.

    We can’t remake Bolton into a one-horse town (okay, lots of horses), but if the desire is to have something akin to UMass Crossing then I would suggest that Bolton Crossing moves us closer to that goal, not away from it. UMass Crossing should be viewed as a concept for a downtown, not a plan set in concrete. Can UMass Crossing, the idea, be adapted around Bolton Crossing? Yes. Urban planning is not a rigorous exercise. It has to be tempered with economic realities. If it’s too rigorous, it’s doomed to failure. It needs to adapt.

    Bolton does not currently have a “real” downtown, so let’s not fool ourselves. I’d love it if Bolton did have a downtown, but it doesn’t. And it’s not going to happen unless someone starts somewhere. Bolton Crossing would be a start. Everything else is just wishful thinking at this point. The key is to ensure that Bolton Crossing’s design fits into the longer term vision.

    No, I don’t want a Lowe’s or Home Depot or Walmart or Costco or BJ’s or Macy’s… Let’s not blow this out of proportion. We’re not talking about the new mega mall in Hudson. In my view, the biggest aspect of whether Bolton Crossing would add or detract from the character the town is the architecture, signage, layout, etc. Screw up the architecture and it will be a nightmare, but if it’s done right, it will be amazing. Particular stores and businesses come and go. Don’t forget, demographics will dictate the type of business. (Don’t worry folks, there won’t be a payday loan business.) If there’s a nail salon, it’s because that’s what people want. If there’s a specialty wine store, a specialty wool and bead store, a Penzeys (you get the picture), it’s because that’s what people want.

    As for the traffic nightmare, well, that horse has already left the barn (followed by three deer, two goats, five turtles and sixty squirrels – someone should call animal control.) Town center is on 117 and that’s not going to change unless someone can figure out how to create a bypass (and get someone to pay for it). Yes, Bolton Crossing would likely add to traffic woes, but so would anything else that would help create a downtown (including UMass Crossing). Maybe Bolton Crossing can be the trigger to start properly addressing traffic, an issue that’s overdue in my mind…

  6. David Drugge says:

    I think I can shed a little light on this… first I did look at the UMass drawing and it is what it is a nice drawing. The study just looked at the land as it were all tied to the smith property. If you drive by 117 you will see there are three separate properties the access road crosses and the housing is built on their property. Which would make it a little difficult. We have built in a community center in the town green, the UM drawing shows a drive in without cars??
    Unless property on Harvard Road is bought the only way out is through this site, David W. must have information I don’t?? Who’s to say we can’t build in a buffer strip of land and gift it back to ?? “the town” to block access out? We shouldn’t panic there are ways we may all have a little of what we all want. Maybe we could start a Friends of Bolton Crossing where both sides actually meet and address all of these issues? See if we could come to some sort of common ground, Build and preserve? Sounds like a plan to me.


  7. JP says:

    In reference to Anthony’s comment: I don’t agree that the Bolton Crossing plan would bring us closer to “something akin to the UMass Crossing”. I think the two concepts go in opposite directions. In my view, (am I getting this right without blowing the proposal out of proportion?) a 30,000 sq ft grocery store and 347 parking spaces would diminish any sense of community and the character of the town.

    Something like the UMass plan, along with improved pedestrian and bike access, would create a town center, a destination to meet and chat with friends, without necessarily increasing car traffic. The Bolton Crossing concept, on the other hand, would probably bring in traffic from surrounding towns and discourage pedestrian and bike access. If the goal is to enhance the community, it would seem to make sense to start with something that actually does so, whether it’s the UMass plan or something else.

    Is Bolton really a bedroom community? Maybe for a segment of the population, but I think it remains somewhat of an agricultural town, though certainly different in nature from what it was a hundred years ago. We have an agricultural commission with a “right to farm” bylaw. The Bolton Fair lives on. We have an active “Bolton Local” group, a new community garden, and some version of a Farm to School program in the works. And it seems like every week or so, I learn of another family planning to start a vegetable garden, keep bees, raise chickens or some other small livestock.

    Let’s not be so quick to dispose of our agricultural heritage. True, only a few of the larger farms remain, but the demand for local foods grows every day, backyard farming is on the rise, and the concept of sustainable living is catching on.

    I love the spirit of Dave Wylie’s comment.

  8. Trebor says:

    Could someone please tell me what is historic about a cement block building cladded in aluminum sidding? The town center is run down, it looks like crap and not very attractive to tourists and future residents. I would love to walk down town for a coffee and lunch with friends. Or a nice place to eat along with some shops. Our town needs a boost into this century… I once restored an 1853 home on a main street and we had shops, pizza places, coffee shops and alike all around and it never effected the historical significence of my house, ever.

    • CBO says:

      While i agree with you that the garage looks run down, it is not as large an eyesore as would occur in the town center if this plan, or any majority retail plan, were to be built. What happens to the Smith property will influence what Bolton looks like forever. If it goes retail, or mostly retail, the surrounding properties will eventually follow suit as people find it more difficult to sell their houses (Would you like to live next door to a CVS or Traders Joes?). Once it goes retail, you cannot control what kind of retail will eventually succeed. I would argue that the kind of retail we end up with will be determined by what the 25,000 commuters who drive through daily would want to patronize, not the desires of the 5,000 Bolton residents.

      And speaking of that [ideal] coffeeshop . . . seems to me it ought to be on the other side of the road.

      • Trebor says:

        Actually I’m speaking from experience. I lived in a small town then I restored my Gothic Revival home to it’s original look the best we could with pictures from the time..circa 1850. I do have an appreciation for restoring homes and preserving our past probably more then the people on the board do, but It would be nice to have something to do in Bolton. The community has been so unfriendly, so much different then where I lived before. But anyway, the small town grew in the time I lived there…yes a CVS, Starbucks, Pizza shop, Jewelry…etc. A very nice and cute downtown. Because of that I got almost double the price for my home then if it was just sitting next to a rundown garage and other buildings falling to the ground. The impact on the properties in town center is a shame. Because of the fact the historical board doesn’t require restoration, the place is a dump. It looks like one and feels like one you go there.

  9. boltoncenter says:

    Trebor, you might note that what are rundown in the village are commercial properties, not private homes.

  10. Maria Dixon says:

    While I completely agree that these UMass drawings are charming, it is not realistic. We cannot afford another tax payer funded enormous town project ike this one. I applaude Mr. Drugge for taking this project on. It would be fantastic to have that unattractive property cleaned up and have some retail space to add to the town’s tax base. The proposal that Mr. Drugge has presented would add value to the town overall. I completely support it.

  11. Joan Entwistle says:

    Regarding Anthony’s comments – the Bolton agricultural commission website reports that Bolton has 66 parcels of land designated as agricultural totaling 1790 acres. It also has the greatest number of acres in orchards in the state. This is due to the people of Bolton working to preserve land and support agriculture.

  12. Anthony says:

    I like the fact that folks are taking an interest in the topic at hand. Debate is always a good thing. It shows that people care.

    I’d like to add a few more comments…

    Given that a two-third vote is required to even allow Bolton Crossing to potentially happen, it is extremely unlikely that it will succeed. In this respect, the discussion here is, for the most part, moot.

    I’d like to respond to the offense taken by my comments as to Bolton’s status as a farm town. I fully support Bolton’s farm community and its agricultural base. My statements were and are intended to emphasize that farming in Bolton is not the backbone of the community any longer; it’s important, but it’s not the primary focus. I accept that Bolton has 66 parcels of land designated as agricultural totaling 1,790 acres. By my math that’s approximately 15% of the area of Bolton. But to put some perspective on that, I understand that the International and its related land holdings are over 800 acres. According to the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, for 2010, Bolton has 1,568 single family parcels and has an assessed property tax base of $932 million of which $842 million is residential. Bottom line, while farming is important, it’s not as important as it once was (and maybe it’s not as important as it should be). Pardon the pun, like it or not, farming in Bolton will not be a growth industry, at least relatively speaking, going forward.

    From my earlier post, I’m sure you realize I’m pro-Bolton Crossing, but it’s not because of the specific details of what it entails; rather, I support it because it advances the town and, more significantly, helps to clean up the Smith property. I repeat, the choice is not UMass Crossing versus Bolton Crossing, it’s the current Smith property versus change. UMass Crossing (or something like it) has had years to be implemented and yet here we are sitting with a metal building sitting on an environmental tragedy. I ask the residents of Bolton, what do you want to do with this property? For some it is clear that they prefer the existing old run-down status quo, at least for now. Bolton Crossing is far from ideal, but it is far too easy to complain and say no. Let’s have a vote about UMass Crossing, but let’s make it clear what it will add to the tax bill. Remember, tax bills have an impact on property values too.

    Here’s a question to which I’d like to know the answer. If someone wants to buy the Smith property and erect a three, four or six level apartment building, does anyone in the town have the ability to stop it? I don’t think it would be as easy as many think. Imagine that, a concrete apartment building in the downtown. Then we can talk about UMass Crossing.

    Maybe the analogy isn’t quite correct, but I can’t help thinking of the arguments about spoiling the view on the coast with an offshore wind farm, where the alternative is perhaps oil on the beach…

    We should all sit back and relax a bit and forget about Bolton Crossing. Realistically, it’s not going to happen. Everyone has the right to their view, for or against. I respect that. Let’s move on. Every indecision has its consequences.

    • Graybeard says:

      The discussion is not moot because we all need to be thinking about this very complex topic and eventually vote on it. There will be many unforeseen consequences. Could someone ask the Planning board or the developer what would be the plan if the 2/3rds vote did not pass? Residential use should be considered. If the developer is truly interested in working to achieve a good fit for Bolton, then i doubt the residential plan would have buildings as you describe, that sounds like a scare tactic. Ugly units would be harder to sell, therefore less profit. Some of us view parking lots and a CVS as uglier than any apartment building–big and rectangular. People need to think more about the usage and impact of that usage, not just the visuals.

      I am not against retail in town, it is just that it is more appropriate on parcels nearer the exit ramps of 495, and since those open areas will eventually go retail, do we really want this much?

    • Trebor says:

      Who was the 2/3rds vote that voted in the 71 unit housing devolpment at Century Mill Estates and on Spectacle Hill Road. The impact to our little town will be tremendous. The impact study done clearly was a political maneuver, the roads of S. Bolton and Spectacle Hill cannot handle the traffic generated by the construction and eventually the traffic from the residents. Someone is going to get killed on this road, probably a pedestrian. Unfortunately I was not in Bolton during this discussion. If I would have known about such a mess, I surely would not have purchased a house here. Anthony it all might be a moot point, as you said, because no matter what we say, money talks and it talks politics!

    • David Drugge says:

      Who are you? Merlin? You are just one person who likes to write, and one vote. Don’t under estimate the residents of Bolton.

  13. JP says:

    Anthony, I did not take offense at your comment, just disagreeing.

    It would be fun to continue discussing the future of agriculture in Bolton, in Mass., and in the whole country, for that matter, but regardless of how important farming currently is or ever will be in Bolton, why does the plan for the Smith property have to be Bolton Crossing or nothing?

    Full disclosure: I have no experience whatsoever in town projects, so I would have no clue as to how to go about it (anonymity is hugely helpful, here), but why couldn’t a group of citizens get together and come up with a vision, a plan, and proactively make a counter proposal to Mr. Drugge? And, if not acceptable to him, look for another developer? Are there maybe some creative ways to raise money, or creative partnerships that could help us achieve what we want?

    Don’t know if this could be relevant to our situation, but here are some examples of what some Vermonters have done to create vibrant town centers, while preserving the smallish/rural town character:

  14. Anthony says:

    Graybeard, with respect to the apartment building statement, it was not intended as a scare tactic. It was merely a hypothetical to get people thinking. I never said concrete is ugly. Concrete can be beautiful…if done right. But, I’m not naive enough to assume that the Smith property will turn into a one family colonial. As for UMass Crossing, I doubt that anything even remotely similar will be started for at least a decade, if not significantly longer. Your point is right on the money with respect to the simple question of what will happen if the vote doesn’t pass. I agree completely, and that is what I’m trying to get people to focus on.

    As to the issue, JP, why Bolton Crossing or nothing? The reality is that is the current and only choice on the table. There is no other. No one has actually put anything else forward. Yes, there’s talk. Words. No commitment, no action. The residents of Bolton are not going to be asked Bolton Crossing or UMass Crossing. They will be asked to approve (albeit indirectly) Bolton Crossing in the form of a zoning change and that’s it, period, full stop. If it fails, then what?

    I’d love it if people mobilized and took action, but I don’t mean a simple protest parade. I mean a plan with money to back it. I’m all for alternatives. I just want people to realize that if they want an alternative, they need to put it forward in a tangible way. Taxpayer money in Bolton is at a premium right now.

    My purpose is simply to get people thinking and then to do something about it. Why is it that it takes a Bolton Crossing proposal to start action on the Smith property. We should care. But, I don’t want people to say no because it’s convenient. All I ask is that people make an informed decision with a view to what is achievable and realistic. No, I don’t think there’s going to be an apartment building on the Smith property in the near future, but I’d be willing to bet that if Bolton Crossing fails (which it probably will because of the voting requirement) there is a greater likelihood of an apartment building on the site before an idealized UMass Crossing ever sees the light of day. In the short run, the property will be unused until the building falls apart or a cleanup is ordered and then, sad to say, we, the taxpayers will be on the hook. The land will then remain vacant. Ultimately, I suggest that compromise will have to occur. It’s only a matter of time.

    A partnership could be possible, but businesses are not charities, so both partners have to contribute. I simply ask, what do you suggest that the town contribute…

    (For the sake of complete disclosure, I am a resident of Bolton and have no direct or indirect interest, association, knowledge, acquaintance, etc. with anyone involved for or against Bolton Crossing, the town or any employees, nor do I live anywhere near “downtown”. My views are my own. I’m just an opinionated taxpayer who loves the town, to put it bluntly. And, we each love it in our own way.)

  15. JP says:

    Anthony/Merlin, if you are “all for alternatives”, and care so much and know so much, then why, as you say, are you trying to get other people “to do something about it”? Why aren’t you doing something about it yourself? Why criticize other people for mere words, but “no commitment, no action”? Maybe other people don’t exactly know what the alternatives might be, or where to start. If you do, then please jump in with some action.

  16. Anthony says:

    Okay, maybe I’ve been too verbose. I’m not suggesting alternatives; I’m for Bolton Crossing. I think it’s overdue. J.P., what I thought I said was if the residents don’t want Bolton Crossing, it would be more productive to suggest alternatives, rather than simply saying no. Why should the supporters have to justify themselves, whereas the naysayers don’t? As for the Vermont experience, it’s quite interesting.

    With respect to my view on the likelihood of success of getting a 2/3 town vote, to be clear, I want the residents to vote yes. To pass, there needs to be two supporters for each one opposed. That’s an uphill climb especially on such a visceral issue. Don’t read more into it than that. Nothing more or sinister was intended. I sincerely hope the residents rally around.

    Here’s a constructive suggestion, can a poll be set up on this site. While unscientific, it would be interesting. Ask people to “be fair” and only vote once. The question could be as simple as “Do you support Bolton Crossing?” A simple yes-no. You could also ask “Would you support a tax increase to support UMass Crossing?” Let the so-far silent majority voice their opinion.

  17. Nancey says:

    I know this will not happen, but I wish people would stop talking about putting the retail center near 495 or somewhere else, the whole purchase and re-do is to get this mess cleaned up underneath the smith property and have a town center. A town center is not going to happen with a large parcel of land such as the land on Main and Watoquodoc, Who wants to go walking near the entrance to 495 and Main street, with cars getting on and off the exits there, at any given time of day there is a fender bender with police cars and lights going off and on. Not exactly relaxing, just not what I’m picturing a ‘town center’ to be. Yes, there are a lot of abandoned properties, but none of them (IMO) with the attributes that the Smith land and land behind and beside it has. That to me is truly ‘the center of Town’. Some of you talked about the Skinner property, what? So you are going to trapse the kids down 117 across 495 and all of that madness and go to where Skinner was? ridiculous. I think that we will come to an agreement for the land at Smiths and beyond and hopefully we can finally make this town into a real village with some shops and some life in it. The last time I remember a cute little village with some living breathing humans walking around was when we had the old Bolton fair before it moved away. I loved seeing kids walking around with balloons and actual people on the streets. I think David Drugge can do it, I would like to show him some support, and also make our voices heard as to how we would really like to see this look.

  18. Pingback: Let’s recap | Bolton Center Historic Neighborhood Blog

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