MARLBOROUGH – Balloons flew over Marlborough’s French Hill neighborhood on Wednesday afternoon as part of a “balloon test” to show approximate dimensions of a proposed mixed-use development in the area.
On the ground, city councilors, neighbors and developers themselves mingled, holding streetside discussions on a project that has already been the subject of multiple recent meetings in City Hall.
“The goal is to revitalize the whole area,” Councilor John Irish said in comments to the Community Advocate.
Developers pitch mixed-use project
Located on the corner of Lincoln and Mechanic streets, the proposed Alta Marlborough development would be the creation of Wood Partners, a national real-estate developer with multiple similar projects in Central Massachusetts.
This development would include 276 units, with parking provided entirely on site, according to developers. The majority of the 470 parking spaces, in turn, would be provided within a parking garage that Wood Partners plans to construct.
There would be retail space on the first floor of the development. And ten percent of units would be classified as affordable.
As they’ve laid out their proposal, developers have touted plans to build an auxiliary parking lot with 22 spaces and restroom facility for public use next to the nearby Assabet River Rail Trail.
City Councilors share thoughts
Filed earlier this year, the Alta Marlborough project was most recently before the City Council on May 9 for a public hearing.
There, community members shared their thoughts.
While several individuals supported the plan, others raised concerns, asking, among other things, whether developers could realistically ensure entirely on-site parking.
Others spotlighted traffic issues.
“I think we can all agree here that the Lincoln Street corridor is probably one of the most, if not the most, congested areas in town,” Marlborough resident Bill Burke said.
At least four city councilors were then in attendance at Wednesday’s balloon test, sharing their thoughts on the project.
“It’s interesting,” Councilor Kathleen Robey said. “It is going to definitely change this corner.”
Among other things, Robey shared concerns about the developers’ planned public use parking lot and restroom area.
“I would prefer it not to be parking,” she said. “I think that’s going to add to some congestion as bicycles and pedestrians cross the rail trail to continue on downtown.”
Eyeing balloons bobbing above a now empty lot at the Lincoln and Mechanic Street intersection, Irish said his biggest point of interest involved seeing how the proposed Alta parking garage would fit into the overall project.
He also celebrated city efforts, including rezoning work, to create more space for mixed-use projects in Marlborough.
Councilor Don Landers called the Alta project “a real asset to the city,” expressing confidence that the plans will move forward.
In a time where state and local leaders have repeatedly warned of a pressing housing crunch, Landers said Wood Partners’ plans fill a need.
Housing, he said, will also fit hand-in-hand with ongoing economic development efforts in Marlborough, which have, in part, sought to attract larger life science employers to the city.
“If you expect them to come in and build biotech and all that,” Landers said, “You’ve got to give the employees a place to live.”
A former assistant superintendent in the Marlborough Public Schools, Landers further addressed concerns that frequently crop up around housing projects and their impacts on the school system.
“I don’t worry about additional housing filling up the schools as much as giving our residents a good place to live and giving our kids a good neighborhood,” Landers said.
Councilor Sean Navin said he is “excited” to see potential investment in the area.
He then noted recent feedback on the project, eyeing next steps in the city’s review process.
“We’re going to be able to address some concerns that people raised and have some conversations, but the opportunity to have someone come in and clean up an entire block of the city is an exciting one,” Navin continued. “Hopefully it will mean good things for this neighborhood.”
Neighbors meet with developers
Wednesday’s balloon test event attracted a handful of residents.
Several discussed concerns, with some still expressing lingering uncertainty following conversations with developers.
Several others, though, said they viewed the project favorably, especially after some of those same conversations.
Among those, George Larassa, who owns GL Auto, an auto repair shop on Mechanic Street, highlighted ongoing issues with drainage along Lincoln Street directly abutting the planned Alta site.
He said he viewed Wood Partners’ plans, but he had questions about how the developers would avoid worsening those drainage issues.
“It has to be addressed before this gets built,” he told the Community Advocate.
He then said he was happy with the answers he received on Wednesday.
Balloon test highlights potential, councilor says
Speaking during the balloon test event, Wood Partners’ attorney Brian Falk complimented the developers’ prior experience.
“They’ve got the wherewithal and the bandwidth to get this done,” he said.
City councilors, meanwhile, reiterated comments on the value of this balloon test.
“The most powerful part of any development process is providing information to people,” Navin said. “This is how you do it. You bring the neighbors in and make sure that they understand what helps here.”
The balloons themselves, he continued, are as much a symbol of potential as they are rigid markers of a still yet-to-be-approved project.
“It’s both informational as well as [a sign of] what could be,” he said. “That’s a neat thing.”
This project remains under city review, having been referred to the City Council’s Urban Affairs Subcommittee and the Site Plan Review Committee.
Meetings will continue as this process moves forward.
In the meantime, the city has set up a form for community members to submit questions to the developer regarding this project.
That form can be found at https://www.marlborough-ma.gov/planning-board/webforms/questions-developer.