By SCOTT JACKSON
City officials are targeting a 51-acre area within Wollaston Center – including stretches of Hancock Street, Newport Avenue and Beale Street – for redevelopment using a similar process that has unfolded in Quincy Center.
“Wollaston at this point I think needs a little bit more help from the city,” said Rob Stevens, the city’s deputy planning director. “Once we do that, I believe there will be a brighter future ahead.”
Stevens provided city councillors with an overview of the new urban development plan for Wollaston Center on Tuesday, after Mayor Thomas Koch formally proposed it. A similar urban revitalization and development plan is already in place for Quincy Center and has been used to guide the development efforts that have taken place in the downtown district in recent years.
The new plan for Wollaston requires approval from the City Council and Planning Board and will also be vetted by the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development before it could take effect.
The public will be able to comment on the plan during future public hearings and a citizens advisory committee will be established as part of the review process, Stevens said. He noted the city has hosted several community meetings in recent years to discuss the future of Wollaston Center and input from those meetings helped shape the proposed plan.
Stevens opened his presentation by showing two aerial images of the district, one recent and one from 1977, to highlight how little development has taken place in the area.
“A Dunkin’ Donuts was developed in the last 40 years and then we had one multi-family building that was developed in the last 40 years,” Stevens said, also noting the Wollaston MBTA station has been renovated during that time.
Both aerial images also show a dark spot in part of what is now the CVS parking lot. Stevens said that dark spot is a puddle that is indicative of stormwater drainage issues that occur in Wollaston Center.
Jef Fasser of the BSC Group, the consultant that helped develop the urban development plan for Wollaston, described the area as “decadent,” meaning it qualifies for such a plan under the state’s regulations. He said 75 percent of buildings in the area are 80 or more years old, and 85 percent of buildings are 50 or more years old.
“Old doesn’t mean bad, but old is a thing we look at it because if buildings are older and they haven’t been kept up to date, then they in many cases are not meeting current code, do not have current utilities and other services that would be necessary for businesses to move into them…and therefore are either underutilized or vacant,” Fasser said.
He also noted several buildings have been demolished in recent years and not replaced, namely the Wollaston Theater on Beale Street and three buildings on Newport Avenue that were destroyed or badly damaged by a five-alarm fire in 2019.
The development plan identifies those parcels for acquisition, along with several adjacent parcels. The city would flip those parcels to a developer who would construct multi-story, mixed-use buildings in their place.
The Enterprise Rent-A-Car location on Beale Street, which is within the CVS parking lot, would also be targeted for acquisition. The city would keep that land and build a stormwater control station on site.
Fasser suggested additional development could take place on surface parking lots, including those used at the CVS, the Wollaston MBTA station, and Tobin Towers, where the Quincy Housing Authority has expressed an interest in building new housing.
The urban redevelopment plan includes an estimated gross cost of $50.76 million. More than half that amount, $32.03 million, would be spent on public improvements, including roadways and other infrastructure, new green spaces and a stormwater control station.
The plan also anticipates the city would spend $7 million to buy the various parcels identified for acquisition. It also estimates paying $1.5 million in relocation fees to the businesses and residents who currently use those parcels.
The city projects it will then flip those properties to a developer for a combined $7.5 million, which would be deducted from the gross cost to give a net cost of $43.26 million for the project of which the city has $300,000 available.
Stevens said the city would look to use state and federal money to pay for remaining cost of the project. The administration could also propose creating a district improvement financing district, also known as a DIF district, for Wollaston Center. The DIF program would allow the city to issue bonds that would be paid back using new tax revenue generated within Wollaston. The city is using a DIF program to fund public improvements in Quincy Center.
Ward 5 Councillor Charles Phelan Jr., who represents part of Wollaston Center, said he looked forward to the public process to review the new redevelopment plan. He said parking regulations and height restrictions would be among the issues that would be addressed during that process.
“I think there is a going to be a lot of give and take,” Phelan said.
Phelan also noted he owns a business, the Hamel-Lydon funeral chapel, within the proposed urban development district, and has asked City Solicitor Jim Timmins to determine what impact that would have on his ability to vote on the matter going forward.