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Belmont's Cushing Village Ends Initial Presentation on a Hy(land)

Neighbors group seeks a 3D visit to the project as well as pushed back from their homes.

Preliminary designs for the final of three buildings to make up the proposed Cushing Village retail/residential project in Cushing Square were brought before the Belmont Planning Board and residents who filled the Board of Selectmen's Room on Wednesday, Dec. 5,

The Hyland, a nearly 60,000 square-foot, multi-use building that cascades from the corner of Belmont and Common streets on the Watertown/Belmont town line to Horne Road, joins the Pomona and Winslow to provide the first overview of the completed complex first envisioned by developer Chris Starr and his Smith Legacy Partners half a decade ago. 

But the first detail look of the building, which would house a fitness center, the majority of the project's parking and up to 47 housing units, was secondary to what Planning Board Chairman Sami Baghdady called "the highlight of the the evening," the first scheduled public comments on the size, scale and mass of the project. 

The Cushing Square Neighborhood Association, which has been critical of the project in the past year, reserved their comments to reiterating the intentions of the bylaw passed by Town Meeting in 2007 that created the Cushing Square Overlay District and requesting Starr to provide abutters the opportunity to conduct a "3D virtual tour" of the project.

But while neighbors are keeping up a steady and measured counter to the project's presence, it appears Cushing Village – deemed "in trouble" by Starr in July – is beginning to take on a feel of inevitability.

The Planning Board and its peer review architect, Steven Heiken, principal at ICON Architecture, have been making encouraging comments in the past few months concerning the all important "bulk" of the project – the Board has been reviewing the project's massing since February – where it appears to many that Starr is prepared to clear a significant hurdle towards moving the development from blueprints to shovels in the ground.

Presented by Belmont architect Erik Rhodin, the Hyland – located on the block where a CVS store was located bordered by Belmont and Common streets and Horne Road – has 50,000 square-feet for 45 to 47 condominiums and 8,000 square-feet of which 4,000 square-feet will be occupied by a fitness center that is located below grade. 

See renderings of the proposed Hyland building on this page.

In an attempt to decrease the building's mass, a notch is dug out in the structure's west-facing facade so now it resembles a blotted 'U' with the area to become an interior courtyard. 

Gateway and greenhouse

The building, which will be the entry to the complex's parking garage, will have a small, squat tower at the corner of Belmont and Common that, as Rhodin noted, "creates a gateway to Belmont" from Watertown. The tower will house stairs and an elevator serving the fitness center and garage from the street and the rest o the building. 

The Hyland is mostly a three-story building, stepping down in height as the elevation falls a little for than 15 feet towards Horne Road. About a fifth of the total building's floor space, around 3,500 square feet, is fourth floor space in the middle of the building.

The Horne Road-facing area is designated for first-floor retail while sidewalks around the building will be extended to allow for greater pedestrian use. There will also be a rooftop gathering area ("a greenhouse," said Rhodin) with a small enclosed kitchenette, which are popular in Washington DC apartment buildings. 

Unlike the neighboring Pomona building which has a distinct neo-Parisian circa 1860s vibe, the Hyland is far more sedate with its most distinct feature a metal roof treatment and a thick wrap-around lintel that dominates the third floor. The building will have a light rose-colored hue ("Found in your typical Cambridge building," said Rhodin) with a heavy brick treatment near the tower and along the base. 

The building reaches nearly 40 feet at its highest point and steps up in height in locations near abutting residencies on Belmont Street and Horne Road. 

With the final building presented, the Neighborhood Association took a three prong approach to the project. Donald Becker, CSNA president, told the board that it is useful to reread the letter and the intent of the bylaw that created the overlay district.

The role of the Planning Board is not simply restricting Starr within a specific square footage, said Becker, but how the Planning Board – which was granted complete oversight powers in the Overlay District – is required to create a "socially-inviting place" by approving "wise design" that is "respectful to the residential character of the neighborhood." 

The CSNA's Doug Koplow pressed the Board and Starr to bring forward "3D renderings" that will allow for greater "visualization" of the project, allowing residents the opportunity to view the density away from development team drawings that "is more ... marketing" that puts the complex "in the best light." 

Horne Road's Devon Brown concluded CSNA's presentation with specific areas for the Planning Board to inspect including further use of "more graceful" step backs of the buildings near the abutting neighborhoods as well as a careful look at the placement of heating and cooling units on the building's roofs. 

Noise a new concern

"We are painfully aware that these mechanicals create noise," said Brown, referring to the continuing problems that plague some neighbors of the Wellington School who contend the large HVAC equipment on the school's roof create sounds and vibrations that continue to disrupt their lives after 15 months. 

Kathleen Rushe of Horne Road requested that that board make burying the HVAC machinery in the building a prerequisite to approving the current design. 

For many in the audience, the overwhelming sentiment was that developer, board and abutters were and are negotiating in good faith, as suggested by Debbie Hartman, but it's time that a decision is made to go forward or reject the current design. And for most residents who spoke, they are squarely in Starr's corner. 

Nick Markantonis, who for 34 years has owned Brother's Pizza located across Trapelo Road from the project, said Cushing Square businesses are struggling financially for the past five years "and every delay makes it worse." The complex and the construction will "be tremendous for the business community." 

But Judy Singler of nearby Selwyn Road said the Town Meeting vote five years ago approving the Overlay District was not to approve four-story buildings whether they are 20, 30 or 40 feet tall because such a project will "oversaturate the square." 

"We do want something new but not the first thing to come" before the board, said Singler, fearing that Cushing Square will become an urban area rather than remaining a suburban center.

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