WILMINGTON, MA — Article 60 of the 2021 Annual Town Meeting Warrant asks voters to rezone several parcels of land from “Residential 60” and “General Industrial” to “Highway Industrial” that are on Route 125, abutting the I-93 off-ramp (Parcels 24 & 24A on Map 103, Parcel 1A on Map R1), across from 196 Ballardvale Street (new Habit Burger plaza) & 200 Ballardvale Street (Agfa building).
At last week’s joint public hearing between the Wilmington Planning Board and Wilmington Finance Committee, attorney Michael Newhouse and consultant Michael Caira, both representing property owner North American Realty LLC, presented three preferred conceptual plans for the land in question:
- hotel with larger 100-seat-or-more restaurant in front; 2 smaller limited service restaurants on the side
- a large retail facility (up to 60,000 square feet); 2 smaller limited service restaurants on the side
- a large retail facility (up to 60,000 square feet); a 3-story medical office facility on the side
Newhouse, a former Selectman, noted that the property owner is interested in hearing more from the community regarding the proposed uses for the 9-acre development area. Newhouse later added that “this is a sincere effort to put out concepts that we think will appeal to the town’s administration and town’s people” and the owner wants to do something “compatible with the interests of the town.”
“We believe this rezoning will foster appropriate economic development in an ideal area of town, and would be complimentary to the similar zoned highway industrial parcels across the street,” added Caira, former longtime Town Manager.
Selectman Gary DePalma spoke out and said he had concerns about the proposed uses and was concerned about the existing density and traffic in the area.
Caira responded that, in 2008 the town established the highway industrial district specifically to keep traffic off the main arteries and roadways.
“Those changes allowed us to do things like bring in Target. Before, a large box retail would only go on main streets. Now, new larger commercial opportunities can locate at the outskirts in town, precisely where they should be, to accommodate the traffic, which would essentially be coming off Route 93,” said Caira.
“This land, right now, is zoned for residential. That really is not where you want to put residents, right off the highway,” added Caira. “That’s where you want responsible development.”
To sweeten the pot, the property owner’s representatives is asking voters in the next article — Article 61 — to authorize the Selectmen to accept a gift of land — 13.2 acres — across the street, off of Route 125.
“This would satisfy environmental objectives to improve aquifer protection and do so at no cost to the town,” explained Caira, noting that Public Works Director Mike Woods has had his eye on that land for many years. The land abuts town-owned land.
Watch the discussion of Article 60 & 61 at the joint public hearing around the 1-hour, 1-minute mark HERE.
At a meeting later that night, the Wilmington Planning Board voted to recommend disapproval of Article 60. Chairman Michael Sorrentino, in particular, wondered how COVID-19 and remote working would affect the future of the current office buildings in the Ballardvale Street area, and wished for more time to examine the proposal. He further wished a more holistic approach was taken to the study the existing businesses and undeveloped parcels in the area.
At a separate meeting, the Wilmington Finance Committee, meanwhile, overwhelmingly recommended Article 60. Several members suggested the rezoning and proposed uses were perfect fits for the area. Town Manager Jeff Hull also spoke out in favor of the article, noting that — if a hotel were to be built — all of the many businesses in the area would no longer be forced to have their out-of-state visitors stay at hotels (and eat at restaurants) in Woburn, Burlington and surrounding communities.
Voters will ultimately decide the rezoning of the land at the 2021 Annual Town Meeting on Saturday, May 1, 2021 at 9am at the Shriners Auditorium (99 Fordham Road).
Below are some images from Attorney Newhouse’s Presentation:
Preferred Concept #1 (Hotel/1 Large Restaurant/2 Small Restaurants)
Preferred Concept #2 (60,000 sq. ft. Retail Facility/2 Small Restaurants)
Preferred Concept #3 (60,000 sq. ft. Retail Facility/3-Story Medical Office Facility)
What The Land Currently Looks Like
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