By Kim Siebert MacPhail
Vince O’Neill, owner and president of Vinco Properties and Walk the Plank LLC, came before the Planning Board on Wednesday night for a public hearing to discuss his revised redevelopment plan for 100 Plank Street. After much discussion and debate about the mixed-use concept, whether it could be successful in that area of town, whether mixed-use meant parcel by parcel or within the whole corridor, and whether the area would turn around once the Middlesex Turnpike construction is completed, the Board moved to continue the public hearing to a later date, when further revisions to the plan could be considered.
This public hearing marked the fifth time that O’Neill has been before the Board to present plans for 100 Plank Street,presently the site of a vacant mixed-use office and retail building that O’Neill has been unable to lease. With the Planning Board’s permission, O’Neill hopes to redevelop the single-building property into two buildings with a total of 48 apartment units plus 2,000 sq. ft. of commercial office spaces. Multi-vehicle covered garages for resident use would also be constructed on the site.
O’Neill is a real estate developer well known to Bedford and the greater Boston area. He founded Vinco in 2001 and since then has developed—region wide—over 1.5M sq. ft. of office, industrial and retail space along with about 200 residential units.
In Bedford in 2003, O’Neill purchased and developed 160 Middlesex Turnpike, now home to FW Webb’s world headquarters. He also acquired and refurbished the former Raytheon site on Hartwell Road for a total of $20M before selling the building to its current occupant, Instrumentation Labs. Vinco also navigated the permitting process for the Hartwell Farms condominium development, donated a ball field along with that project, and, according to O’Neill, is helping the Town sort out the ownership and right-of-way issues along Hartwell Road that have kept it from becoming an approved town roadway.
“Once Hartwell Farms is [fully developed],” O’Neill said, “the projects we developed in town will have a combined assessed value of over $84M and will generate over $1.5M in tax revenue a year for the town of Bedford.”
Vinco was the original owner of The Village at Taylor Pond before selling it to Criterion Development and subsequently buying back the 100 Plank Street portion of the property. In 2010, O’Neill first approached the Planning Board about converting the mixed-use building into residential units. The design has changed over time: retail square footage has been added, then subtracted; a live/work concept was floated but rejected; the number of 2 bedroom units has fallen due to concerns over the prospect of additional children affecting Bedford’s already-burgeoning school system. O’Neill’s current plan includes 7 studio apartments, 31 one-bedroom units, 9 two-bedroom units plus 2 office space units.
O’Neill believes that some of the people who might live at 100 Plank Street, as well as those in other apartment buildings along the road, would walk to their workplaces nearby. He also believes that mixed-use development on Middlesex Turnpike has improved in the last five years, pointing to the increase in restaurants and other amenities. That Panera—a national company—would come to 213 Burlington Road is a positive sign.
“You’ve seen mixeduse explode all up and down Middlesex Turnpike,” O’Neill said. “Bamboo, The Boardroom,[Max and Dylan’s], Panera, Kindercare.These things are very important to your commercial base. . . .Long term—if you want to shore up your commercial base—there are certain things employees need and things top CEO’s will tell you they need to hire the top people.
“In order to get the best people, from a real estate perspective, they need a few things,” he continued: “a building that’s well located in reference to where their employees live; a building that projects a certain image that coincides with the image their corporation wants to project; and a building that’s located in an area where their employees can find various affordable housing options and also goods and services and amenities such as restaurants, dry cleaners, things like that. If they don’t find them, they’ll move elsewhere.”
While the Planning Board didn’t dispute O’Neill’s analysis, members were concerned that by allowing a commercial building to become almost entirely residential they would be undermining the mixed-use concept they lobbied Town Meeting to accept in 2006.
Bedford Resident Jim O’Neil agreed, saying that he doubted that Town Meeting would approve re-zoning the whole area in favor of 100% residential use. “I don’t think [this plan] meets the objective on what Town Meeting gave its approval.”
Selectman Mark Siegenthaler added that the Selectmen agreed that adding more residential units on Middlesex Turnpike was not a desirable way to promote the mixed-use concept. He added that it is not the Town’s responsibility to alleviate the risk businesses take when they try something that doesn’t work.
“Personally, though, I think it’s true that each time proposals come forward for this site, the same issue comes up and that is that we have a zoning bylaw that treats individual sites and tries to make them–by themselves—the total answer for mixed-use development. . . .The layout and the location and the wetlands and set-back from the road—a whole variety of issues have conspired here. It doesn’t mean that adding more residential is the right thing to do, but unfortunately the bylaw is targeting parcels where the concept has to be bigger than any one of the parcels.”
Ultimately, the Planning Board requested that O’Neill return at a later date with a revised plan adding more retail space and more details. Some members expressed the opinion that once Middlesex Turnpike re-opens in both directions and traffic flow is restored to its former volume, vitality in the area will improve.