Sunday, November 15, 2015

Nobscot Shopping Center Redevelopment Concept Gets Mixed Reception

On November 12, more than a hundred Framingham residents, primarily from Nobscot, gathered in a meeting room at Heritage at Framingham on Water Street to hear about the long-awaited economic development action plan for Nobscot village.

At first the presentation, given primarily by Economic and Community Development director Art Robert, was standard issue revitalization action steps: a design vision, marketing and reinvestment, public realm improvements, and a regulatory strategy. A holistic plan, not just for the problem aspects of the village, but also to capitalize on its assets, such as the large amount of open space for recreational opportunities.

Then the big news came out: that the owner of the nearly-empty and decrepit Nobscot shopping center on Water Street, which has been spiraling downward ever since the supermarket closed a decade ago, has, after years of inaction and lack of engagement with the town, stepped forward with a proposal to redevelop the property.

While Framingham officials, including both Art Robert and town manager Bob Halpin, preferred to call it a "concept" rather than a firm proposal, the essence is that the property owner has expressed an interest in tearing down the existing building and replacing it with a 150 unit apartment complex, a freestanding CVS pharmacy with a drive-through, as well as an additional ten thousand square feet of retail space to be available in two other buildings. It's a bold idea, which would involve not just removing the existing shopping center building, but also the former Texaco station on Edgell Road that has been shuttered for at least fifteen years, as well as the office building at 880 Edgell Road, home to Nobscot Dental and other businesses, and the town-owned Nobscot Chapel at the corner of Edgell and Water Street.

Audience reaction ran the gamut, from begrudging acceptance that almost anything would be better than the present situation, to firm opposition. Robert and Halpin answered a multitude of questions and patiently listened to more than one passionate outburst, and then residents were given an opportunity to review and provide feedback on a variety of design plans for the proposed project.

By the next day, particularly after what some saw as a misleading story about the meeting ran in the Metro West Daily News, the public conversation really took off on the Nobscot Neighbors Facebook group and e-mail list, as well as on the FramGov e-mail list. Some of the most-cited concerns about the apartment complex component were that it would increase the density of the village to an unacceptable level, with a four-story building more urban than village in appearance, increased traffic, and possibly inject a significant number of new students into the school system.

Some people felt that allowing such a project was only rewarding the property owner for its failure to maintain and keep the property fully occupied, or that we should hold out for what many have insisted for years - that a full-service supermarket should be the anchor store again for the shopping center. A few even insisted that the current situation, in which the only stores occupying the main building are a CVS and a Chinese takeout restaurant, while the rest of the building continues to deteriorate and the chapel and the shuttered gas station sit vacant, is preferable to the proposed mixed-use proposal of apartments and retail stores. There were others that argued that while not ideal, the proposal, with some negotiated changes, could be acceptable, and that regardless of what residents want, the property owner and principal lessee are only going to do what's economically feasible and in their best business interest.

The proposed redevelopment project would require a zoning change, which would likely take about a year before it could be drafted and sent to town meeting for approval. If passed, it would likely be another year or two as the project made its way through the Planning Board and if approved, was actually carried out. So best case scenario, it would probably be two to three years before this long standoff between the town, the property owner, and other various entities, including the lessor, a bank, and the master lessee, the parent company of Shaw's supermarket, could end. Without the necessary zoning change and project approval, the situation could potentially remain largely unchanged for several decades, due to the length of the current property lease.

What Framingham residents and elected officials will have to decide in the coming months is while neither option may be fully acceptable to all parties, which one is the lesser evil and will be best for the future of Nobscot village.

Full disclosure: I am a Nobscot resident and one of the founding members of Nobscot Neighbors, the group of residents that has been advocating for a revitalization of the village for the past seven years. I am, however, presenting this as my personal observation, not one endorsed by or representing Nobscot Neighbors.


Susan Massad said...

Your points are well taken here. I just hope that if they do put in apartments, they keep the CVS and allow a few other businesses in with it. Since the Library is next door, a nice coffee shop would be a draw. We still have a ways to go.

The Hamster said...

It sounded like CVS was a definite part of the plan, with its own free-standing building.

Beyond that, the other stores will be a market-driven decision, i.e., whoever thinks they can make a buck there, but we should certainly make our preferences known. Even with Honeydew nearby and Dunkin Donuts in the gas station, an outfit like Panera might still me interested and able to make a go of it.

jg said...

I just can't believe that we are still looking at another 3 years if this plan does go through...

safe tech for schools framingham said...

I was thinking about the old chapel on the corner, and I think we should get the community in there for events. Let's get the Framingham Historical Society to host an event or exhibit at the chapel, showcasing the history of nobscot, going back to the King Phillip war, perhaps. I'm sure so many of us in Nobscot who have been outside the chapel would love to visit inside the building, and a contextually relevant and cultural opportunity presents itself with this chapel. If nothing else, make it a stop in the Framingham homes tour. Getting this space involved in the community will be an important way for us to envision possibilities in how to utilize it in the future. Maybe we can even coordinate with some other relevant museums in surrounding communities such as Concord to bring in other artifacts for an exhibition of this sort.

Tom said...

I recently moved to Nobscot and part of the reason I bought a house here is because I liked the idea of the village. The smaller, quieter part of Framingham where community is supposed to be a priority. This concept that was presented at last weeks meeting flies in the face of my idea of a village. Frankly, I would hate to see 150 rental units just down the street from me. I could warm up to the idea of condos and commercial space but 150 rental units is not OK with me. Hopefully our town officials will keep the residents best interests in mind.