University Station Fiscal Analysis Presented, Debated

Developer's expert presents report, while town's expert disagrees on some methods and conclusions. Both have more work to do as the process rolls on.

The Champagne Room at Carby Street was filled up last night for the Planning Board meeting as the discussions surrounding University Station continued.

Zoning bylaws were on the agenda, but the topic the majority of the room seemed most interested in was the Fiscal Impact Analysis.

John Connery, the expert who prepared the Fiscal Impact Analysis for the developer, began by presenting his opinion by explaining the methodology used to determine his results. He explained how he tries to find comparable communities and projects and for the retail portion of the project he used South Shore Plaza, Burlington Mall, Derby St., Legacy Place and another place in Burlington.

“[University Station] is somewhat different than the five I mentioned,” Connery admitted, noting that the different types of places play into the rent.

Connery estimated the retail component valuation at $127 million, calling that a “conservative approach.”

The offices were valued at $41.9 million, the hotel around $12 million and the senior living at approximately $16 million.

The residential portion of the project, which is the portion that has garnered the most controversy and opposition by Westwood residents, was valued at about $67.5 million by Connery based on an average assessment of $150,000, although he said that there really was “no real comparison” for this specific type of project in a town like Westwood or with the specifications that Westwood offers.

The condos, of which there are currently plans for 200, are estimated at a value of $332 million by Connery.

“I’m comfortable with all of these numbers,” Connery said. “You may find the relationship between the anchors and junior anchors may mimic traditional malls, but I’ll stay conservative right now.”

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Many residents have expressed concerns with the effect the new residential units will have on the school system. Connery spent a decent amount of time explaining how he arrived at his numbers for the schools. He said he looked for god comparables, where the schools were good, they were in towns with good incomes and they were near trains, as opposed to out in the middle of nowhere in a field. He ultimately believes approximately 50 kids will be added to the school population, with a plus/minus 10% margin of error.

The Town of Westwood has their own team of experts, and their fiscal analysis expert, Judi Barrett, was present to rebut Connery, as well as offer her own distinct suggestions once he finished his presentation. She came out swinging.

“Most of what we heard is not in the report,” Barrett said of Connery’s report. “I think all analysis and estimates should have documentation. Documents live on. It’s kind of hard to do a review if we can’t see where the numbers came from.”

Barrett also said that they wanted to take a look at Northborough, noting it’s not the exact same type of community, but it does have similarities, including a Wegman’s and a residential piece.

“We’re going to continue to recommend looking at other communities and then come back to Westwood,” Barrett said. “Revenue is not where people disagree. It’s costs. You have to understand what changes are going to happen.”

Earlier in the meeting, the town’s special counsel for this project, Daniel Bailey, presented some information about the zoning bylaw. He stated that the board had some concerns last week about the later phases, but they’ll be subject to something similar to a site plan review.

Bailey did mention some additional uses requested by the developers. These requests included a drive through, which could be used for a bank or a coffee shop. They also want to be able to have a fast food establishment, although not a McDonald’s. John Twohig, from New England Development, confirmed that they had spoken with Panera Bread. The possibility of a pet store or pet grooming facility was also mentioned, as was a storage facility in what is now a warehouse.

“We’re very interested to know what the retail will be,” Planning Board Chairperson Jack Wiggin said. “I don’t see us approving it at Town Meeting without knowing more. The Fiscal Impact Analysis says the type of retail affects income, so it matters.”

The next Planning Board meeting is scheduled for December 4.  A traffic study is expected to be submitted by December 11. The Special Town Meeting is still scheduled for February 28, although there was some talk of that eventually needing to be delayed slightly. According to Town Administrator Michael Jaillet, in order for it to be set for February 28, they would have to have it set up by December 17.

local resident November 21, 2012 at 03:49 PM
A 450 unit, 70' apartment building in the backyard of our neighborhood and a hotel of up to 120' is extreme and just not right for Westwood. Never mind the fact that the traffic problems, public safety, school capacity and other issues have not been adequately addressed. I hope our fellow Westwood residents will not let the desire expand our tax base ruin our community.
Robert Rosen November 21, 2012 at 04:59 PM
Thank you for commenting, Sean. The dollar figures I mentioned that were given were valuations where much of it is based on the income, or revenue, generated by the properties. Foe example, the hotel rooms weren't valued based by simply dividing; rather, Connery tried to find similar types of hotels with good highway access, and he used an estimated number of how full in percentage-wise the hotel would be at capacity for the year (I can't remember the number he used). In terms of the valuation of the condos, I believe a lot of that has to do with how much tax revenue is generated from them. This is something that I should probably speak to someone from the town about, so I can write a better explanation about how Westwood's property taxes work. This way some of this information might be clearer everyone.
sean November 21, 2012 at 05:45 PM
Robert, Thanks for your quick response and thanks for your detialed coverage. That is very nice of you. May I understand your argument this way: 1. Condos are more efficient on generating tax revenues for westwood, kind of like a milk cow, while apartments are very inefficient (10 times difference) on generating tax revenue. Then it is not difficult to get the conclusion that building apartments are mostly for the benefits of developers. 2. Seems to me office and retailes are also more efficient to generate revenues than apartments. If I extend previous arguments further, which is kind ofdangerous though, rentals are the key of this project. Once apartments are built, it is not the problem of devlopers. It is the problem of the town.
Robert Rosen November 21, 2012 at 06:02 PM
Sean, again, thank you for sharing your thoughts here. I just want to clarify that's not my argument; rather, I was just trying to explain and give a little more detail about what John Connery, the expert who prepared the Fiscal Impact Analysis, said about how he arrived at some of his conclusions. I think you have some very valid points that I've also heard tossed around by other residents at meetings I've attended. I do believe, from what I've learned from following the meetings, that the apartments are a key component for the developers, and it looks like it's one of those things where they are hoping the town gives them something (a certain number of apartments) and they will negotiate to give the town something (what, I'm not sure exactly- certain retail taxes or office taxes, etc.). It's sort of a quid pro quo, and ultimately residents will have the opportunity to decide if the trade has been good enough on their end at the Special Town Meeting.
sean November 21, 2012 at 06:33 PM
Robert, Thanks again! Those are very good coverages and useful information. The difference between condo and apartment is really astonishing. Very interesting!


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