Concepts for Westborough State Hospital land presented

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By Bonnie Adams Government Editor
It might not look very inviting now, but local and state officials hope this and other historic buildings at the site of the former Westborough State Hospital will one day be renovated into a mix of housing and retail businesses. PHOTO/BONNIEADAMS

Westborough – For the last 125 years, the nearly 108 acres off of Lyman Street was known as the site of “Westborough Insane Hospital” before it was changed to the kinder “Westborough State Hospital” in 1907. Over the ensuing years, the facility was home to hundreds of patients. But, in 2010 the state, facing a myriad of budget problems, decided to close the hospital and move patients who were still housed there to a facility in Worcester. Since that time, town officials in Westborough and Northborough, as well as a number of local developers, have anxiously awaited to see what the commonwealth will do next with this prime piece of property.

At a meeting held at the Northborough Free Library Feb. 23, local officials heard a report from Sasaki Associates, Inc, the consultants hired by the state's Division of Capital Asset Management (DCAM) to assess the property.

Peter Brigham, a senior associate and Fred Merrell, a principal planner, presented an overview of three concepts that Sasaki representatives believe would be sustainable at the site.

Each of the three concepts would be a mix of residential housing and retail shops, with the number of residential units ranging from 491 to 596 in Westborough and 26 in Northborough. Of those units, 10 percent would be affordable housing, they added. Each concept would also include open space, access to water activities along Lake Chauncy, as well as the extensive trails already present on the property.

“These are all comfortable concepts,” Merrell said, “not overdeveloped. They honor the past but look to the future as well. There's a synergy of how these [uses] mix together.”

It was important, he noted, to remember that there were a number of historic buildings that by law must be retained. The buildings had “great bones and integrity” but needed extensive renovations, he said. Therefore, it was imperative that other new development was allowed to help offset the renovation costs of the older buildings.

One of the biggest future fiscal impacts would be the anticipated number of Westborough school children the project would add to the schools ranks, which range from an estimated 121 to 140, depending on the concept.

The site already had “great utilities in place,” Merrell said, including water, sewer and power. Another asset, he said, was that Westborough has already created a new multi-zone bylaw for the site.

“These plans are based on that current zoning,” he added. “Westborough was really forward thinking.”

Merrill said there are certain other planning principles that need to be adhered to, including separating the redevelopment from a Division of Youth Services facility, which is still open and will remain so, as much as possible.

Sasaki has consulted on other projects similar to this one, Merrell said, including renovations at the Foxboro State Hospital, Danvers State Hospital and the Metropolitan State Hospital in Lexington. Those projects, however, were nearly all residential, he noted.

Westborough Town Planner James Robbins addressed the men regarding the issue of the town's infrastructure.

“You'se done a lot of work. But the total number of [proposed] units relative to the water and sewer is critical,” he said. “I's not sure these build-out projections would be possible.”

Before any plans are implemented, there was still a great deal of study necessary, Robbins cautioned, adding that it most likely would be several years before final approvals would be in place.

Marybeth Clancy, the DCAM project manager overseeing the project, urged the local officials to review the concepts before the next public hearing, which will most likely be held in mid- March. The Sasaki presentation is also posted on the Westborough and Northborough town websites.