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No to Four: Residents Seek Three Story Limit on Cushing Village Building

Abutters and neighborhood group wants height limits on Hyland while developers squeeze exterior a bit more after resident comments.

Just say no, a neighborhood organization that abuts the proposed Cushing Village development is telling the Belmont Planning Board.

No, the Cushing Square Neighborhood Association isn't concerned about a decision by Planning Board Chairman Sami Baghdady that by early in the New Year the board would take up possible regulations on any marijuana dispensaries that wish to take up residence in the "Town of Homes."

The association wants the board to just say no to a fourth floor on one of the three buildings that make up the $80 million, residential/retail mixed-use project in the heart of Cushing Square being presented by developer Chris Starr and his Smith Legacy Partners development company.

The association told the board at its Dec. 11 meeting the Hyland building – to be placed at the corner of Belmont and Common streets where a CVS drugstore was once located – with approximately a third of the residential square footage located on fourth floors "violates the spirit" of the bylaw passed six years ago by Town Meeting to created a special zoning district to promote development in one of Belmont's main business districts.

Having a four-story facade serving as the "gateway to Belmont" as the developer's design team has been describing the Hyland "doesn't reflect the homes" that dominate the town and neighborhood, said Devon Brown, an association member who lives on Horne Road. 

At past Planning Board meetings, project architect and Belmont resident Erik Rhodin has pointed out that the unique nature of the Hyland – situated on a steep slope – and the location of the fourth floor in the center of the building would have little visual impact on adjacent areas. 

Yet Brown said that the mass of a fourth floor, "no matter if it's in the center of the building, you'll be looking up and see four stories," noted Brown.

"This pushes the limits of good design," he said.

The Hyland will have 8,000 sq.-ft. of commercial space with roughly half set aside for a health club, 50,000 sq.-ft. of residential space that will house approximately 47 apartments and will be home to the development's underground parking facility with the entrance adjacent to Horne Road. 

This past summer after hearing considerable comments from residents, the Planning Board required a reluctant Starr to reduce fourth floor area on the Hyland facing Belmont Street and another building as offering too much mass to the surrounding residential neighborhood.

And while board members made note of the Association's concerns, they have not been as vocal as in the past with the added mass. Board member Michael Battista  suggested that a compromise could be achieved by using area over a courtyard in an adjacent building to recover any residential space lost due to further reducing the fourth floor in the Hyland.

Brown also pushed that the board require all heating and cooling mechanical be placed within the building, noting the continuing issue with noise some neighbors have with the new Wellington Elementary School.

Smith Legacy's chief architect Pat Quinn introduced a computerized shadow study that indicated where shadows would fall from the proposed development in the summer and winter. But many in attendance and Planning Board members asked the study's time line be extended from what they considered a very limited 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

Quinn also pointed out efforts by his team to bring in portions of the development's two other buildings – the large Parisian-inspired centerpiece Pomona to be situated overlooking Trapelo and Common and the Winslow adjacent Trapelo and located where the municipal parking lot is located – to create greater "step backs" or space from residential neighborhoods. 

After listening to residents in favor and questioning aspects of Cushing Village, Baghdady said the board "hopes to bring closure soon" on the development's size, shape and mass review which began 10 months ago. 

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