Developer proposal is now an airier, brighter and a more accessible development
But at a two-hour review of two months of behind closed door meetings between the development team and a three-member group led by the Planning Board's Chairman , the biggest obstacle facing Cushing Village is not what's on the ground but what's planned skyward.
At Tuesday night, June 26, meeting of the Belmont Planning Board, the issue of height – a fourth floor on two of the three buildings and placing a half floor on the third – appears to be the greatest stumbling block facing the approximately 175,000 square foot housing/retail/parking that is being proposed in the heart of Cushing Square.
"We will have issues with it," said Andy Rojas, who with the board's peer review consultant, Steve Heikin of ICON Architecture of Boston, joined Baghdady in meeting since April 17 with Smith Legacy Partners' architect Peter Quinn in an ongoing planning session to find compromise towards creating a development both the board and public will back.
It will be seen if those challenges facing each side can be met at the Board's next meeting on July 10 where Baghdady will seek to close discussion on the board's review of the development's massing and height.
Working closely with Heikin – who assisted Quinn in realizing the goals of the special town bylaw laying out the criteria for the development and comments from citizens concerned the project's density – the project's overall site plan has been opened up with greater area for public space and a corresponding lightness in its overall design from the original concept.
"Rather than reduction for reduction sake ... this is a response to ICON and the public meeting process," said Smith Legacy's attorney Mark Donahue.
"We are very pleased ... with the changes made," said Quinn.
The new design alterations will create a public plaza behind the building known as the Winslow (located in the existing municipal parking lot at Williston and Trapelo roads) with a parking space that can be transformed into a special events plaza – at the current location of the Starbucks on Trapelo Road – between the Winslow and Pomona (the main building at the intersection of Common Street and Trapelo).
More space and easier parking
There will be extensive landscaping as a buffer with abutters to the Pamona and along Horne Road and Belmont Street with the Hyland Building (at the corner of Belmont and Common streets).
The municipal 100 space parking garage will have direct access to the street and retail along with one vehicle access into and out of the facility near Horne Road.
In addition, the portion of Horne Road between the Pomona and Hyland is now aligned with the rest of the road, adding more public and retail space. The sidewalks along the entire development will be widened to create seating space.
The new design comes at a cost to the development team in trimming the square footage of a number of residential units and retail space, noted Donahue.
While the two sides have worked resolving many issues that were raised since it was initially brought before the board in February, there remains significant areas that both sides have yet to come to a resolution; the most prominent being the use of additional floors on the Hyland and Winslow buildings. In both cases, Smith Legacy seeks to retain a fourth story for additional residential housing.
But Rojas, who is the Board of Selectmen's member of the Planning Board, said that retaining the top floors will be difficult because the board "has stated over and over again" that the bylaw and past decisions have indicated that building heights of more than 40 feet "will be tough to pass" due to massing concerns.
But Donahue countered by saying that revisions to the site plan from Heikin did not show a reduction in the height.
Horne Road's Don Becker, a critic of past Cushing Village designs due to density and massing, said while he appreciates the direction of the changes to the site, he remains concerned that Smith Legacy hopes to have a three-story building as it abuts his street.
Yet despite the concerns raised, Donahue told the board they will be "ready" to demonstrate in the fortnight how the revised site design works for all sides.