Public Opinion about the Project

Much public opinion has been expressed about the Trade Center Park project, principally in two venues: newspaper coverage and public hearing testimony including three Conservation Commission meetings, and at least four public hearing sessions before the Woburn Planning Board.

Newspaper Coverage

The Daily Times Chronicle ("DTC") and The Woburn Advocate have both carried stories about the project. Following are links to some of the DTC articles:

Traffic a concern at Trade Center Park (9/13/06)
Trade Center Park back before Planners (10/2/06)
Planners set special meeting for Nov. 2 for Cummings plan (10/25/06)
No decision yet on courthouse at Trade Center (11/3/06)
Planners request more traffic info before taking vote (11/16/06)

Coverage of the project has even been picked up by the Harvard Crimson, Harvard University's daily student-produced newspaper.

Roadwork Threatens Memorial to Revolutionary War Alum (12/8/06)

Planning Board Public Hearings

As part of the open meeting process of any major building project, the Woburn Planning Board has already held three public hearings to date on the proposal. City officials, traffic consultants, representatives of Trade Center Park, Woburn citizens, and others have all voiced their opinions, with traffic impact and analysis generating the majority of the discussion, and the proposed courthouse of secondary concern. The following is a sampling of comments offered at the hearings.

Robert A. Mulligan, Chief Justice for Administration and Management of the Massachusetts Trial Court, appears to be the person most directly responsible for spearheading the rebuilding of the existing courthouse in Cambridge. In his remarks at the November 2 public meeting, Justice Mulligan stressed the Court's deep commitment to being an excellent neighbor within all of the dozens of communities in which it has courthouses.

Addressing the issue of security in relation to the presence of Middlesex Superior Court, Woburn Police Chief Philip Mahoney testified that he and his department have collaborated extensively with Court staff to establish a joint security plan. He stated that he has no public safety concerns whatsoever relating to the Courthouse. Chief Mahoney also noted that he had spoken with the Cambridge Police Chief, who reported that the Sullivan Courthouse in Cambridge, which houses both the District and Superior Courts, has had no adverse public safety impact on that community.

Don Cooke, a special traffic engineering consultant for the city of Woburn, with the firm of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc., issued a final report in agreement with the package presented by Cummings. He testified at length about Cummings' proposed off-site improvements, and said that his report was the result of considerable back-and-forth between his office and Cummings Properties' traffic consultants. He concluded that Cummings had adequately analyzed the impacts of its project and, "at this point I feel comfortable," describing the impact package as "a chance to fix some problems," as quoted in the DTC. Specifically regarding the Main Street/Elm Street/Alfred Street/Sylvan Road ("MEAS") intersection, he testified that with the proposed improvements, the traffic post-development will improve and will be better than it currently is, particularly during afternoon rush hour.

In response to questions about the traffic analysis, Cooke said that Cummings' analysis is very conservative and uses estimates that are on the high side, so actual traffic will be less than what is projected. He added that though he believes the analysis is appropriate and adequate, it can be revisited in the future and, if necessary, signal timing can be adjusted to actual counts.

Ward 6 Alderman John Ciriello also testified at the public hearing: He commented that he doesn't question what Cummings Properties does for the city or the first-class nature of the building, but he is worried about the traffic impact at the MEAS and other intersections, including the rotary. He also commented on the landscaping buffer on the north lot line and the perceived need for a sidewalk on Sylvan Road running east from Pearl Street. He also wanted a time schedule for implementing the improvements.

Former Mayor John Gilgun testified in support of the project. He said the tax revenue generated from the project would help the city, particularly since there is a plan in the pipeline to build three new elementary schools. He is quoted in the DTC to have said, "I can't for the life of me see why we can't look at this as a win-win situation for the city of Woburn."

Field Terrace resident and former Ward 4 Alderman William J. Mulrenan, in supporting the project, asked the board to consider Cummings' record and said the office buildings at Trade Center Park are, according to the DTC, "going to be first class."

Former Ward 5 Alderman and City Council President Paul Medeiros, described by the DTC as a frequent Cummings foe when he was a member of the City Council, testified in favor of the Trade Center Park project. As quoted in the DTC, "An office use is not a bad use. If this were going into the W.R. Grace property [on Washington Street], I'd be supporting it. We'd at least know we're going to have rest on the weekends." Medeiros also suggested the buildings might act as sound barriers for noise from the highway.

Former Ward 4 Alderman William Booker also spoke in favor of the project, stating that the city and Cummings can make the project work for both sides. He spoke favorably about Cummings' role in the community.

Also touting Cummings' philanthropy and citing its contributions to organizations like CMARC and the Woburn Boys & Girls Club, Garden Terrace resident John Casey testified in favor of the project. He also noted that Cummings "employs local people."

The safety issue of the 128/Main Street rotary was the major concern articulated by Robert Boissonneault, a resident of Granny Smith Lane. He said that it was rated fourth worst in the state going back 10 years and questioned whether the improvements to the rotary would improve it or make it a more dangerous intersection. He produced his own drawing with questions about the design of Sylvan Road as it passes through the Stop and Shop parking lot. He also questioned the north access drive to the site and the height of the building.

Elm Street resident Gerald McCabe, also concerned about the rotary, questioned the traffic study and called the proposal a "win-lose" situation for residents, although he said he has nothing against Cummings. In addition to the rotary, he echoed some of Boissonneault's concerns about Sylvan Road and the north access drive, where he said he and his wife conducted their own traffic counts. In general, he said, as quoted in the DTC, "the project is too big for the roadways in North Woburn, even with the improvements."

James McCurdy, resident of Ward Street, was not convinced that the traffic would not continue to gridlock even after the improvements, and also questioned the security associated with the courthouse. He remarked, per the DTC, "I wasn't expecting seven-story buildings, which will change the character of the neighborhood." Carol Finnegan of Granny Smith Lane also mentioned security issues as concerns, as well as light and noise from the new buildings.

Woburn resident Gerry White of Pearl Street spoke in support of the project, noting that Cummings Properties is a good neighbor.

Joseph Freitas of Pearl Street and Mark McGuire of Winter Street were both worried about traffic backing up on Main Street and drivers looking to get to and from the site using residential side streets like theirs. They also cited problems with water pressure in the area as well as sewer problems, something City Engineer Jay Corey was asked to address at an upcoming meeting.

Pearl Street resident Kerstin Lochrie, who confessed she was on the fence when she arrived at the hearing, spoke in favor of the project. She testified that some development is going to go on the site, that we don't need more apartments or houses, and that the proposed office and courthouse is the best use. Lochrie said she has two children at the Linscott School in North Woburn, and the classrooms are already bursting at the seams. A number of other people have also expressed concern about not wanting any kind of additional apartments or condos in the area.

Mary Laing of Cedarwood Road, in supporting the project, echoed Lochrie's observation that something is going to go on the site, and office is the best use.

Denise Carbone of Dobbins Drive questioned the MEAS and Sylvan Road/Pearl Street intersections and the schedule for completion of the improvements.

Elm Street resident Cristy Gunduz said she was seriously concerned about the safety of her children along Elm Street. even before the new office buildings are constructed. She wanted assurances that Elm Street will not become a cut through. Her husband, Don, also spoke and complained that there is too much traffic in the area.

Bruce Garvey of Emeline Street testified in favor of the project, urging the Board to listen to the traffic professionals who have endorsed the off-site improvements proposed by Cummings. Don Manzelli, himself a prominent area builder, was also supportive of the development, and Cummings generally.

Christine Ramirez-Platt commented about the MEAS intersection and the scope of the proposed traffic improvements. She also stated that the building was too high for the area, even if it is permitted by zoning.



Woburn Conservation Commission

The Route 38 (Main Street) widening is taking place immediately adjacent to significant wetlands (Middlesex Canal). Accordingly, all construction activity must be completed in close conformity with all wetlands regulations, under scrutiny of Woburn Conservation Commission.

Following submission of detailed plans to the Commission and to the Department of Environmental Protection, a Public Hearing was opened in Woburn on September 28, 2006. Thereafter, an extensive Order of Conditions was issued by the Commission on November 3, 2006, and recorded at the Middlesex South Registry of Deeds on December 11, 2006 at Book 48640, page 81.

Click for the entire Order of Conditions



Traffic Impacts and Analysis

Addressing the traffic impacts of the Trade Center Park (TCP) project has always been a major concern in this development. Without safe and convenient access, the public could be at risk, and no commercial development will ever fully succeed. The traffic analysis for this project has a long history of study and review in arriving at the current level of recommendations on significant roadway improvements.

Initial traffic analyses for Cummings were done in 2001 by Conley Associates in conjunction with the project's MEPA submission. The original study projected traffic impacts based on all office use, and analysis was done at intersections determined at MEPA "scoping sessions." Analyses were performed and roadway modifications were proposed in close concert with MassHighway engineering review.

A final set of recommendations regarding the scope of required improvements was outlined in a Section 61 Finding. This document, issued on January 5, 2005, is MassHighway's authorization notice to proceed with final engineering on an approved program of roadway modifications (attached.)

Review or Print Mass. Highway, Section 61 Finding.

The Boston engineering firm of Edwards and Kelcey, Inc. (E & K) was then commissioned to perform the engineering work involved in developing and documenting the final configuration at the Main / Elm / Alfred and Sylvan (MEAS) intersection. Improvements at this location were determined by MassHighway to be key in addressing traffic impacts related to TCP's proposed development.

A full package of information was first submitted to the Woburn Planning Board in August 2006 in conjunction with Trade Center Park's Site Plan Review submission, including all traffic studies and plans for the MEAS modifications. Subsequent city review, through the Planning Director and City Engineer's office, resulted in a request that the traffic study be updated to include five-year build and no-build projections through 2011, along with revisiting traffic counts at identified key intersections to verify current information.

Also, in August 2006, TCP was selected as the relocation site of Middlesex Superior Court. TCP was requested to review the traffic implications associated with the inclusion of the courthouse in the overall project proposal. Significant new analysis was made to accurately project the anticipated courthouse traffic and its impact on the intersection during peak hours.

Following that analysis, the intersection of Winn Street and Beacon Street in Burlington was identified as an additional area where the traffic engineers felt substantial off-site work was in order. Subject to Mass Highway review and approval this Burlington work, and also further modifications in Woburn to all four quadrants of the Route 38 rotary, were submitted to the Woburn Planning Board on December 7, 2006.

Finally, the Planning Board requested that the Woburn's traffic consultant, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc (VHB), perform a full peer review of the overall traffic analysis to develop a comprehensive set of recommendations that would fully address all TCP project impacts. The VHB review culminated in the production of a written report dated November 14, 2006, presented to the Planning Board at the November 14 Public Hearing. In summary, the attached report concludes that the E & K analysis has satisfactorily addressed the impacts and delineates a scope of roadway modifications recommended in conjunction with this project.

Click here to Review or Print report from VHB.



Woburn's Magnificent Tax Base

As Woburn residents are abundantly aware, the City's highly-prized location is astride two major interstate highways. Zoning decisions by various City Councils over the years have caused vast tracts of local land along these highways, including Trade Center Park, to be zoned for business and commercial purposes. Additionally, Woburn's commercial property tax rate is two and one-half times greater ($21.50 per $1,000 in fiscal 06) than its residential property tax rate ($8.70 per $1,000 in fiscal 06). Accordingly, Woburn receives far more non-residential tax income, on a proportionate basis, than the vast majority of other communities.

Woburn's total tax revenue during Fiscal Year 2006 from all sources was $68 million, according to City publications. Commercial property owners collectively pay $33.6 million in property taxes or nearly 50 percent of the total property tax levy, even though their collective assessed value ($1.56 billion) is only about 28 percent of Woburn's total taxable base ($5.59 billion).

Breaking this down in the two major categories of real property shows the reason Woburn's residential taxes are so much lower than almost all of its greater Boston neighbors:

Assessed Values
Total Tax Revenue
$4,023,696,707 (72%)
$35,006,161 ( 51%)
Business, Commercial & Industrial uses
1,564,298,293 (28%)
33,632,414 ( 49%)
$5,587,995,000 (100%)
$68,638.575 (100%)



The various Cummings-managed business spare properties in Woburn as of June 30, 2006 paid real estate taxes last fiscal year alone totaling $3.4 million, or slightly more than 10 percent of all the City's total non-residential taxes. Cummings currently employs 288 regular full-time employees, including many from Woburn. More importantly, there are approximately 4,700 people employed in the many properties leased by the Company in Woburn.

When Trade Center Park is completed and fully leased as a first-class office building, the combined Court building and general office space will generate additional taxes to the City of at least $700,000 annually.

Those involved with financing arrangements for public schools estimate that the $700,000 anticipated annual tax revenue from this one new development alone may pay the entire debt service for two of Woburn's three proposed new elementary schools. Importantly, this additional revenue is entirely on top of the current tax revenue already generated by the existing Trade Center building, and will be counted as all new revenue and not limited by Proposition 2 ½ regulations.

Woburn should never re-zone property to accommodate new proposed developments without great study, no matter what the proposed tax benefits might appear to be. And unwise development simply to gain more taxes is never a good thing. At the same time, to ignore the pending tax revenue of a proposed "by right" project like Trade Center Park would be to ignore one of the best opportunities to finally correct the problems at this terrible intersection and greatly enhance its tax base at the same time.



Recent property history

Trade Center Park was originally developed as a manufacturing plant for Sylvania Electric Company in the 50's. When that plant and several other Sylvania facilities in Massachusetts closed, the site had a brief stint as Northeast Trade Center. Fairly soon, however, the facility was little more than a site for weekend trade and guns show.

Click to enlarge

Jolly Jim's Flea Markets were the most known events on the site, and longtime area residents still vividly remember special weekend shows. Early Friday evening arrivals for the best bargains often collided with rush-hour traffic. The Route 38 snarl completely blocked the rotary, and traffic was often backed up for up to a quarter mile, both north and south on Route 128. Aerial views of Woburn traffic at Route 38 were not uncommon features on the nightly news.

Other events, such as the quarterly antique shows, were much more placid, and some of the craft shows went along smoothly, also. The knife shows, and sometimes the combined knife and gun shows, however, were problematic in a different way, and sometimes caused considerable neighborhood angst.

While the flea markets seemed to cause the most colossal traffic issues, almost all shows resulted in major parking problems. Haphazard parking on Sylvan Road (named for Sylvania, by the way) caused one set of concerns, while show attendees blocking residents driveways on Pearl Street caused another.

Meanwhile, the site gradually grew more and more distressed, particularly after hazardous waste was discovered there, until Cummings Properties became interested in it in 1995. As it happened, Cummings' late president, James McKeown, grew up and spent more than half his life on Pearl Street, almost next door to the Sylvania plant. He had a special interest in doing a major building restoration almost in his parent's backyard.

On October 2, 1995, Cummings purchased the factory site, and also the 7.5-acre residential tract that abutted the rear of the factory. Cummings knocked down the worst part of the factory before completing a major restoration of both the building and the outdoor areas as well, removing lots of outbuildings, outdoor tanks, etc. Cummings also completed a thorough state-supervised cleanup of the hazardous waste, and then sold off the residential lot in 1997 for approximately the same price it paid for it.



Major improvements imminent for North Main Street

In 1990, the city of Woburn fully approved plans for the so-called Haddon Office Park, authorizing a million square feet of new office buildings, plus several major garages to replace the derelict Northeast Trade Center. The plan included significant improvements to the Main Street / Elm Street / Alfred Street intersection, but that development stalled, and the long-needed roadway improvements never had a chance to begin.

Now, following State approval, Woburn Conservation Commission recently added its final endorsement for more substantial improvement of that very busy intersection, to be funded by Cummings Properties. Cummings says it is ready to proceed with the dramatic rebuilding. During recent public hearings, many area residents indicated that the wait has been much too long.

These major roadway improvements are now connected with Cummings Properties' plans to expand Trade Center Park, one of Woburn's most visible highway locations. The longtime Woburn firm plans to build a parking garage and 438,791 square feet of new office space. Even with the additional traffic from the new development, however, this fully redesigned intersection will work far better than it does today, according to recent testimony from the City's outside traffic engineer, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc.

Most recently, Trade Center Park's proposed expansion plans have been undergoing extensive Planning Board review, including three public hearings. Dennis Clarke, president and CEO of Cummings Properties, says that Planning Board review is well underway, and that Cummings will complete all related roadway upgrades next summer if the Planning Board approves the project.

According to Clarke, "All roadway improvements must be complete before any additional new space is occupied. We want to complete everything in a concentrated effort next summer, although the building's first occupancy is not expected until 2008. Work should begin in June 2007, as soon as summer vacation periods start and traffic is typically lighter. The work is almost ready to go to bid, and we will be considering all appropriate local contractors."

The principal features of the significantly expanded and upgraded intersection consist of new turning lanes on Main Street (northbound), on Elm Street (southbound) and on Sylvan Road (eastbound). Brand new traffic lights, with entirely new state-of-the-art video queue detection and special traffic monitoring equipment, will be installed at Elm and Sylvan, and the Main Street and Alfred Street signals will be upgraded.

Both Main Street and Sylvan Road will be substantially widened to accommodate these additional lanes. About 400 feet of Main Street (northbound) will also be widened beyond the intersection, with new granite curb and concrete sidewalk.

These roadway improvements will merge into the recently rebuilt section of Sylvan Road, stretching from the western end of the Stop & Shop lot almost to Florence Road, which Cummings completed last year. Additionally, Cummings has also agreed with City officials to rebuild the intersection of Pearl Street and Sylvan Road. This work includes eliminating the current "fork" arrangement and replacing it with a right-angle, as well as eliminating the traffic island there to conform to current engineering standards.

According to the plan provided by Robert Venezia of Cummings, there will now be four lanes for vehicles exiting from Sylvan Road. One lane will be dedicated for left turns only, into Main Street, he said. Another lane will be for straight-through traffic, and two lanes will be for right turns only, into a newly widened Main Street, going south toward Route 128/I-95.

To more efficiently move traffic from Main Street into Stop & Shop and Trade Center Park, there will now be two exclusive left-turn lanes for vehicles travelling northbound on Main Street from the rotary. The substantially widened Main Street will also have one lane exclusively for northbound vehicles, and one lane to accommodate both through traffic and eastbound traffic turning right onto Alfred Street.

Extensive traffic studies were earlier submitted to the City in conjunction with Massachusetts Highway Department discussions and approvals, and those studies were updated and expanded by an independent traffic consultant, Edwards & Kelcey, specifically for this site review process. Additionally, the Planning Board required a comprehensive peer review of the whole project, completed at the developer's expense by the City's outside traffic engineer.

A. Click here to print or view new traffic plan for Main & Elm St. Intersection

Don Cooke of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. has worked extensively over recent weeks with City Engineer Jay Corey and Planning Director Edmund Tarallo, as well as with the Planning Board members to complete the City's review.

Proposed Roadway Modifications at
Main Street (Route 38) / Route 128 rotary

The Woburn Planning Board will hold the fourth night of a public hearing on December 12. The hearing addresses long-discussed plans by Cummings Properties to complete development of Trade Center Park on Sylvan Road. Earlier meetings have focused on area traffic improvements, especially on the Main Street / Elm Street / Alfred Street / Sylvan Road (MEAS) intersection.

There are nine specific areas of the Route 128 / Route 38 rotary, however, that outside traffic engineers hired by Cummings Properties and by the city of Woburn have now flagged for improvement, and which the Developers say they have agreed to construct if approved by Mass Highway.

Cummings president and CEO Dennis Clarke said that he, Cummings chairman, Mike Pascavage, and Cummings' outside traffic engineers have worked closely with Planning Board Director Edmund Tarallo and the City's outside traffic engineer, Don Cooke. Cooke is employed by Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc.

"In our opinion, we have agreed to do considerably more than is required under either City or State regulations to earn the full support of City officials and, hopefully, the neighborhood," Clarke said. "If the Planning Board approves this project on Tuesday, nearly one mile of Route 38 will be considerably improved by next September over what it would be if the Trade Center expansion was never even proposed."

Clarke said that even though Cummings Properties initially questioned the amount of work called for by the Planning Board and other officials, it has adopted the changes sought by officials. "We expect that , subject to approval of Mass Highway, all of the highway improvements requested by the Board will be complete long before the Trade Center expansion is ready to occupy. All we need in return now is some timely action from the Planning Board."

Additional major changes to School Street and Main Street

Clarke said that his firm has also agreed with City officials to do some substantial modifications to the Main Street intersection at School Street, and lesser improvements to a number of other Main Street intersections, as well as at Winn Street and Beacon Street in Burlington if required by Mass Highway. The Main and School Street changes are as follows:

  1. Provide new controller and revise signal phasing to provide right-turn overlap on Main Street northbound.
  2. Upgrade all traffic signal equipment, including relocation of near-side mast arm on Main Street northbound approach to the far side of the intersection.
  3. In conjunction with the mast arm relocation, relocate the crosswalk and stop line on Main Street northbound approach to the north, as much as possible, to increase the length of the exclusive right-turn lane.
  4. Modify the existing sidewalk and wheelchair ramps to accommodate the new crosswalk location.
  5. Re-stripe the Main Street northbound approach and departures to maximize the length of the exclusive right-turn lane to School Street.
  6. Modify the existing sidewalk and curb line along the newly proposed exclusive right-turn lane.
  7. These improvements will allow the 2011 build condition to maintain the same level of service at this intersection as the 2011 no-build condition.

C. Click here to view the shadow study

D. Click here to view sound control report