by David Dahlbacka in Beat Reporter, Development and Zoning, Environment and Open Space, Housing, Neighborhoods and Squares, Somerville By The Numbers, Transportation, Ward 4
Posted on August 28, 2010 at 8:32 pm
Last Modified on August 29, 2010 at 4:30 am
299 Broadway (Ocean State Job Lot)
PRESENTATION BY APPLICANT (Robert Allen, Attorney)
Staff report issues: Rite Aid in same parcel. Former Star Market 27 K s.f. Historic property on corner. Built ~1960, Star Market left in disarray. New use doesn’t change external footprint, only signage. Real issue is change of use from Supermarket -> Large Format Retail (Ocean State Job Lot)
Long wall along Broadway will be broken up with columns and lights. The existing sign size will be retained. OSJL will hire about 60 employees. Somerville MA Site Guide said we’ve been working on this since January 2008. The city invited the owner to develop before the zoning change. A 5-story structure was wanted as part of plan to up-zone area. Economy not good for that; owner didn’t want to spent that amount of money, no help from city.
City wanted a grocery. We checked 144 retailers, including 22 groceries. Demographics? Proximity to other groceries? No interest by groceries.
Proposed OSJL to city, city said “no”. We got close to new grocery, but grocery got no money from their bank. In fall 2009 OSJL came back. OSJL has 97 stores with a 100% success rate. Made agreement with OSJL, met with city, held two public hearings.
[COMMENT: These meetings (at Elizabeth Peabody House) were not public hearings from the legal standpoint; their contents are not part of the public record.]
There is a real split among the abutters. Some one something to avoid leaving the site vacant; others want something better.
Mark Pearlman (OSJL CEO): We will address the look of the building to meet requirements of February 4 zoning change. OSJL stocks closeouts of brand-name merchandise. 60% of items are in grocery store. “Superior value, contributor to community.”
Planning Board report says OSJL buildings are mostly on main highways, not embedded in neighborhoods. Not true; a good percentage are near houses.
OSJL will pay sales taxes and corporate income taxes. Nearby businesses will get additional business. We appreciate the input from the neighbors and the bloggers. The opinions are divided. Some want immediate development due to unlawful activity. Goal is for back lots to be employee parking with green space. Intend site to be friendlier; we will remove the ramp from Broadway and add a little courtyard to Rite Aid store. Rite Aid is working to extend its lease. This is the most profitable Rite Aid; they get lots of business from the immediate neighborhood.
It’s said this use is inconsistent with the purpose of the CCD zoning (it’s not inviting because it’s facing Rite Aid). However, it relies on the neighborhood. The issue is vision. The general purpose of the zoning is quality of life. A 5-story building would block the neighbor’s view of Broadway.
The lease should not scare you away. The economy would dictate buying out the lease. (10-25 year lease.)
There were no utility improvements since 1967.
The new zoning refers to new development. We aren’t a new development. There’s no proof an OSJL store is a regional draw. Common sense says a grocery store is busier. Trader Joe’s the biggest traffic draw.
If not OSJL, what else? A vacant building? This is the most significant site in the heart of Winter Hill. How can this be left vacant?
[COMMENT: Arguments based on "common sense" often mask lack of data. Also, if this is the most significant site in the heart of Winter Hill, maybe a higher use should be there.]
QUESTIONS FROM PLANNING BOARD
Kyrilo: Why did OSJL close its downtown Bristol store, if it has a 100% success rate?
A: Was a taking by city.
Kyrilo: That is, it was deemed inappropriate for the district.
A: Taking by city was a disaster. We were the only profitable tenant. The city purchased the land and the mall, threw 15 tenants out. Spent money removing asbestos and the like, knocked down buildings. There’s nothing there right now.
We relocated the store elsewhere in Bristol to a major shopping district.
Planning Staff: Bristol had a downtown. One side of site faced downtown; other side didn’t face a commercial area.
A: Court ruled city could take the site. City didn’t it purchased it. Court ruled they could cancel leases.
Kyrilo: OSJL was deemed inappropriate for a commercial district.
Favaloro: Where are these stores going? What’s the mix of standalone locations versus strip malls? I have only seen these as part of strip malls. Would like a list of your standalone stores.
A: The Circuit City in Portsmouth was changed to an OSJL. There are standalone OSJLs in Orange, Westwood Buzzards Bay, etc. Standalones are not unknown.
Favaloro: The OSJL in Dennisport abuts a major store.
A: As with Rite Aid. It’s still freestanding.
Favaloro: Where is the Medford store?
A: 30 Commercial Street (Wellington Circle). Site of old Stop & Shop.
Favaloro: More of a traditional setting for this kind of store.
A: We don’t have a traditional setting. We have stores in all kinds of neighborhoods. High density, low density. We don’t target our customers. We have Perrier and $0.39 bottled water.
We need to spend from $750 K to $1 M on improving this site.
Favaloro: Would you be willing to vacate your lease in a fat economy?
Kyrilo: What’s the length of the lease?
A: 10 years + 5-year options.
Kyrilo: What are you doing on the other side of the building?
A: New HVAC system, new metalwork and signage, brickwork. Most of the work is inside the building.
Kirylo: More work outside if required?
A: Have already done so.
Moroney: What percentage is green space now, and what will be when you’re done?
A: Now, 0%. There’ll be more than that.
Moroney: 10% is standard; other developments go to 25%.
A: Report doesn’t say the use doesn’t fit, it says it would be better with mixed use above it. If a grocery store is better, why no mixed use above it?
Planning Staff: Overview of process: Zoning was amended February 2010 after long community process. Applied new corridor commercial districts with two heights, CCD55 (55 foot max) and CCD45 (45 foot max). Both occur along Broadway; this area is CCD55.
Zoning includes concept of “use cluster”, or interconvertible uses. Large Format Retail > 10K s.f. always requires a special permit. 4/5 votes required for Planning Board approval. Staff r recommends against. (Staff report only deals with information submitted by proponent.)
Moroney: Because of turnout, we’re allowing 2 minutes per person.
Alderman Pero: Earlier meetings [the ones at Elizabeth Peabody House] were not public hearings, they were meetings. What is happening now is the public hearing.
[COMMENT: The following attributions are made as best I can by ear. Please be charitable.]
Those in Favor
Ed Kugoiski (?): In favor. Would like a supermarket, but not reality. OSJL is a good second choice. Sells good basic stuff. Landlord may not be able to develop. Should we throw up roadblocks to business?
Maria Cardiville: Abutter. Originally opposed; would rather Trader Joe’s’. Have had 144 possibilities, still vacant. Site has all kinds of vagrants. Broken bottles, syringes. Site is blighted. Doesn’t want a 5-6 story condo complex.
Walter Mattis: Abutter. Liked Star Market. Want something there. Bad people now, blighted. Nobody has come forward. Don’t want it empty 3-5 years.
Peabody resident: Good products at good prices. We need it, don’t defeat it.
Flo Chelsea: This is exactly what Somerville needs. A wide variety of goods at good prices. Residents will want to go there. We may want XYZ there, but the reality is “go where you’re wanted.” There is no other possibility. It’s not fair to keep it empty. Be realistic. The demographic is perfect.
Dahlbacka: Live near Porter Square It’s a perfectly good store, but this isn’t the right place for it. I’m concerned about my own tax bill and the necessity for tax base for the city. The ordinance talks about active mid-rise commercial, neighborhood-serving multi-tenant mixed-use buildings, preserving and complementing historic structures, discouraging auto-oriented trip-generating uses along transit lines. This isn’t on a superhighway; it’s near the center of a major commercial corridor. Also site is surrounded by a dozen historic properties. The 25 year lease is a serious concern, now that the Green Line is coming in. Things are likely to be different in 10 years; we shouldn’t lock it down now.
Woman in red dress: This is a large vacant corridor along Broadway. I have a suggested alternative. There is a grocery store interested. Is willing to act as liaison. I’m giving my notes and contact information to the Board.
Jason Mitler: Store was good to walk to. Foot traffic immense. Lot of people liked it. But there’s a lot going on. Broadway, Green Line, assembly square. Cambridge has a lot of groceries around T-Stop.
Anne Johnson (Winter Hill 1964): I apologize for not going to the earlier meetings. I sympathize with the abutters. I am concerned about the building. I’m a marketing person. Zoning is intended to invigorate neighborhood. Regional traffic doesn’t help with that. People will walk, bike, etc. to a grocery. People drive clear to Danvers to go to OSJL. People will drive up Temple Street.
John Murray: Own a home across from Star Market. The rezoning and the Green Line with mixed use development can bring us up. This is a big parcel; if brought up it will invigorate the community. I’m tired of hearing “Something better than nothing.” We’ll lose this opportunity.
(John’s wife): Why is Rite Aid doing gangbusters business if nobody goes there? You could subdivide space with part of it a grocery store, other parts other stores. The property owner is responsible for the property’s condition.
Levy: I’m happier in the new Somerville that doesn’t just accept anyone anyplace. The new zoning was created by a thorough thoughtful process. It should be given a chance to work. There’s no hardship. Star Market was in distress years before Stop & Shop went in. I’d like to hear some flexibility from the property owner. The economy is different from the way it was in 2008. Businesses will see things differently now.
Sheryl Fitzgerald: Dartmouth St. Somerville received the All America City award because of smart growth goals. This doesn’t do that. If there were no improvements for 40 years, it’s telling about the landlord. I hear there was interest in OSJL from the first.
Erica Tollman: OSJL is better suited to a highway or a suburban mall. We’ve been working hard on new zoning. Would be a disaster to override it. Abutters have legitimate concerns, but we’re seeing divide and conquer in play. The landlord needs to be held accountable, made to clean up lot.
Tina Sensonek: Three points.
1. Two years the economy was bad. Economy is improving.
2. I’m concerned about the Medford store. Why a store in both places. It’s easier to get to Medford. 10 years is a long time.
3. Shame on the property owner for not cleaning up the property. How can we trust him to bring in good tenants?
Borowitz: Broadway rezoning to a lot of work. It sets a bad precedent to override it.
Alderman Connolly: The Red Line at Davis works well, so is the Union Square zoning. This isn’t the right place. It’s a great deal for the landlord and OSJL, not so good for us. It’s hard to get across the city now, what about with this regional draw?
Long term leases are not so good. Public transit improvements are coming now. Let’s do a divided store instead.
Moroney: Any further comments?
Alderman Pero: How many people are opposed to this project who won’t speak?
[COMMENT: 3-4 at least raised their hands.]
Back when Wendy’s wanted to come in, we said “we can do better”. Will OSJL help the neighborhood for the next 25 years? We can do better. The zoning has been changed for a reason; the Green Line Extension is coming.
In Chatham, the people said no, but the OSJL went in anyway. It went in on a highway, next to the airport, next to a gas station, next to no residences.
DISCUSSION BY PLANNING BOARD
Kyrilo: Did the landlord say he wasn’t responsible for upkeep of the property? People asked about the condition of the outside of the building. OSJL said if we don’t own the property, we’re not responsible. Landlord shook head, not responsible.
Allen: Lease clear. The landlord contributes to fixing it up. Tenant is to maintain the outside afterwards.
Q: If there’s no tenant, who takes care of it?
A: Landlord is responsible.
Favaloro: Is the $1 M investment by OSJL internal only? What is the landlord’s contribution?
A: Calculated $10-25 K for outside landscaping.
Favaloro: $25 K is pretty small for exterior. It’s a 120 K s.f. lot. For that size of lot, $1 M is pretty small investment.
La Winter: Is there willingness to accommodate? Is the problem rent? Unwillingness to subdivide.
A: Size and demographics. Couldn’t expand. We’ve been working with OSPCD, no help from City. We’d be here with someone else if they were interested. OSJL is still interested.
Kyrilo: IKEA concerned about lease. How about making the 10 year lease conditional?
Staff: Could Planning Board issue a permit with a time limit? Yes, but usually Board does that if the developer is interested in further development. Could reopen discussion. We think the applicant and the landlord aren’t interested. With a time limit, they could have a lease with no right to be there.
Allen: City requested a document be signed requiring certain things to happen at certain times. I couldn’t recommend their signing it. No lawyer could.
Q: So previous efforts were made, but the document isn’t available.
Capuano: We’ve done time limits before. That’s a separate discussion. OSJL’s philanthropic efforts are fine, but not relevant. Have you built any new stores in Massachusetts since August 3, 2010?
A: Medford store to be open in November.
Capuano: There are 38 stores in Massachusetts. Of the 38, I’d say 9-10 are in places anything like Somerville. How many of your stores are in a downtown area?
A: Few have Somerville’s density. Frankly, retailers are foolish not to go in. The landlord isn’t conspiring to keep it vacant.
Q: The q1uestion was how many OSJL are in downtown locations, not in outskirts?
A: It’s hard to find stores in an area as dense as Somerville. A number are on roads like Broadway (with residences adjacent), but not with the density. Maybe 1/3 fit that profile.
Capuano: I want a list of stores that fit our profile.
A: We’ll send you one.
Kyrilo: You say 50-60 Somerville jobs. How do you hire Somerville residents?
A: We contact the local unemployment office and hold job fairs on the site.
Kyrilo: Motion to close public testimony. Written testimony will be accepted up till noon Friday, August 27. The discussion will continue Thursday, Sept. 2, at 6 PM. That’s nine days away.