Questions, Answers at Crowded Garage Forum

26Mar14

[Wakefield Daily Item, March 25, 2014]

garage_forum_crowdBetween 150 and 200 local residents packed The Savings Bank Theater at Wakefield High School on Monday, March 24 for a forum on a proposal to build a downtown parking garage in conjunction with an assisted living facility.

The evening was evenly divided between presentations by town officials and questions from the public. Selectman Brian Falvey handled the bulk of the formal presentation for the first 90 minutes with a panel of town officials adding specific input on aspects of the project.

Thomas_Mullen2Town Counsel Thomas Mullen served as moderator for the evening and laid out strict guidelines proscribing speeches during the question and answer period in favor of direct questions designed to elicit information.

Using the same PowerPoint presentation that he had previously given before the Board of Selectmen and at a Special Town Meeting on Feb. 6, Falvey once again reviewed the history and scope of the proposed project whereby Brightview Senior Living will construct a parking garage with 198 spaces in conjunction with building a 140-unit assisted living facility on property between Main Street and Crescent Street purchased from the Fraen Corporation.

He noted that in 2012, Town Meeting passed an Assisted Living Bylaw and created an “assisted living overlay district” in the area generally behind the Cooperative Bank. In January 2013, Falvey said, he and Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio met with representatives of Brightview who were interested in building a 90-unit facility on the property. Falvey and Maio pitched the idea of Brightview accepting an adjacent 18,000 square foot parcel of town-owned land in exchange for building a larger 140-unit facility plus a parking garage with guaranteed spaces for public use.

brian_falvey2Brightview was receptive and successfully bid on the project via an RFP in late 2013, Falvey said. After going through the Planning Board and Finance Committee, the proposal was approved by the required two-thirds majority at a special Town Meeting on Feb. 6.

Opponents of the project subsequently collected enough signatures to force an April 1 Special Election on the proposed 140-unit project with the garage.

Falvey last night discussed the roles of The Savings Bank and the Wakefield Cooperative Bank, both of which are contributing property rights to the project in exchange for a given number of parking spaces within the proposed garage. The breakdown of parking spaces will be: 30 for The Savings Bank, 18 for the Cooperative Bank and 75 each for Brightview and the town for public parking.

He noted that the two-level garage would have a Main Street entrance (roughly where The Savings Bank ATM is now, between The Cooperative Bank and Jeffrey’s Package Store) for the ground level. The second level would enter from Crescent Street.

Falvey said that the town would have ownership of the 75 public spaces by virtue of a 99-year lease and an easement agreement.

garage_officials2He also reviewed the financial aspects of the agreement, which he maintained would be worth $3.7 million in additional tax revenue in the first 20 years. He noted, however, that the town would provide Brightview with $105,000 in annual tax relief over that period toward its share of the garage, but at the end of the 20 years, the town will still net $1.6 million. The town’s payment goes away completely after 20 years, Falvey said.

Falvey talked about the economic benefits and jobs for local residents during the construction phase as well as 100 permanent jobs once the facility is built. He also discussed the economic benefit of additional parking as well as staff, residents and visitors to Brightview shopping and dining downtown.

Maio and Building Inspector Jack Roberto explained that the town-owned parcel lacked sufficient frontage on its own for legal development, limiting its value apart from the proposed project.

Rick_StinsonDPW Director Rick Stinson pointed out that Brightview would be paying for approximately $1 million in drainage, sewer and gas and light upgrades on or near the site that the town otherwise would have had to pay for.

dan_shermanFinance Committee member Dan Sherman said that the combined assisted living and garage project would net the town $11.6 million (in today’s dollars) in additional tax revenue over 99 years.

Falvey noted that Brightview has a history of designing its projects to reflect nearby residential properties, but pointed out that the developer would not spend money on specific design until they know that the project is approved by the voters on April 1.

Daniel_LieberElm Street resident Daniel Lieber raised a question related to the finances and what he saw as an inconsistency in the $1.5 million that Brightview assigned to the value of adding the town owned land to the project versus a higher estimated assessed value of the finished facility by Assessor Victor Santaniello.

Falvey explained that it was a matter of what the land was worth to the buyer more than the assessed value.

Alison_SimcoxAlison Simcox of Stedman Street said that she was “shocked and embarrassed” by the condition of the town-owned lot and wondered why the town didn’t just partner with the two banks and improve the lot for parking.

Stinson said that for years there has not been a budget for parking lot repair anywhere in town. Falvey added that a deal with the banks to improve the lot was not on the table and dismissed the idea that the banks would agree to such a plan as it was not economically viable.

F. Michael Nardone questioned the assertion that the project would bring construction jobs to Wakefield residents. He claimed that neither the ongoing Franklin School redevelopment nor the Galvin School project employs local residents.

Maio countered that several supervisors on both projects live in Wakefield.

Robert_MitchellRobert Mitchell of Spaulding Street questioned what he saw as conflicting statements by Falvey that the land was both “worthless” and worth $1.5 million to Brightview.

Falvey replied that on its own, the land “has no value,” explaining that its greatest value is in combination with the other land for the proposed project.

Robert McLaughlin asked why, for such a large project, the town didn’t insist upon renderings of what the building would look like from across Main Street or from Crescent Street.

Falvey said that the design phase comes at a later stage and if a rendering had been provided already it would have been the focus of debate. He noted that the town has seen examples of other buildings that Brightview has designed. In addition, Falvey said, the town retains the right to approve the final design through the permitting process.

Bob_mclaughlinMcLaughlin also wondered about some of the older homes on Crescent Street that are expected to be razed to make room for the assisted living facility.

Falvey said that whether Brightview builds its original 90-unit facility or the 140-unit facility with the garage, those houses will be demolished as they are owned by Brightview.

McLaughlin called the project too big for that part of town and said that he would be voting “no.”

Patrick Bruno of McKenzie Lane said that he had spray painted the town lot and invited people to go down and look at it.

Maio told Bruno that he did not have the town’s permission to spray paint the lot.

Bruno also wanted to know what would happen in terms of parking downtown during construction and whether downtown businesses would be able to survive during that period.

Patrick_BrunoMaio said that arrangements would be made for off-site parking but noted that some disruption is to be expected during any construction project.

Bruno claimed that under law, the town had to get land appraised before it could convey it to another party.

But Mullen read directly from state law stating that the town may rely on municipal tax assessment for the value of a parcel. Mullen further informed Bruno that the town rarely gets an appraisal when it sells a piece of town-owned land.

Douglas_HeathStedman Street resident Douglas Heath questioned who would clean up the potentially contaminated site. Mullen said that the agreement will provide that Brightview must incur the cost of cleaning up the site.

Heath inquired as to whether anyone from the town had seen the results of the 21E environmental study of the site. Town officials replied that they had not seen it, as it too was being paid for by Brightview. Falvey added that any environmental issues on the site won’t be cleaned up at all if the garage project doesn’t go forward.

Bronwyn Della-VolpeBronwyn Della-Volpe asked if the town would own the garage.

Mullen explained that the town would not own the garage but would have rights to parking spaces as a tenant and as an easement holder.

“If we owned the spaces in any other way we couldn’t get taxes,” Mullen explained. “We want the garage owned by a private entity so we can tax it.”

In response to another question, Police Chief Rick Smith said the enforcement of paring designated for the town would be done by officers as part of their patrol route.

Replying to another question, Maio said that the Traffic Advisory Committee would be looking at the traffic impact of the project as part of the Board of Appeals permitting process.

The forum was videotaped and will be shown on WCAT in its entirety prior to the Special Election on April 1, and the video will be posted on wcatwakefield.org/. Check local listings for cable showings.

[This story originally appeared in the March 25, 2014 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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One Response to “Questions, Answers at Crowded Garage Forum”

  1. Great job Mark! Lots of details to track and you got them all down in the article.


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