EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 3, 2013

Contamination costs deemed low

Officials support rezoning area, developers get idea of its potential

By Dustin Luca

---- — ANDOVER — With fears of on-site contamination subsiding, the Board of Selectmen supported rezoning the Town Yard for mixed-use development. Less than 12 hours later, developers were at the site for a presentation from town officials showing what the Town Yard could become in the decades ahead.

A review of the site commissioned by the selectmen for just over $4,000 revealed that costs for dealing with contamination at the Lewis Street site can go as high as $1 million, but Cooperstown Environmental President James Curtis said he believes that is extremely unlikely.

Of the roughly three acres of land owned by the town, 1.9 acres is restricted in use by an activity use limitation (AUL) because contamination was found at the site over the last couple of decades, according to Curtis.

Some of the contamination stems from underground tanks used to store fuel, including gasoline, that had leaked prior to their removal. This includes an abandoned tank the town didn’t even know existed until finding it in 2004 while doing other work, according to Curtis.

Removing four feet of soil from every bit of land in the AUL-affected area would cost the town around $925,000, according to Curtis.

Other cost estimates Curtis discussed include the following: around $50,000 to $75,000 for testing the site for more contamination; $25,000 to $50,000 for “surgical removal” of 500 to 1,000 tons of known contaminated soil as oppose to widespread removal of dirt; and $25,000 to $75,000 for environmental consulting, Curtis said.

That would make the worst case scenario facing the town $1 million, including the $925,000 for extensive soil removal and up to $75,000 for environmental consulting. During his presentation, Curtis said the costs would be more likely to reach the $100,000 mark, but even that may be a bit high.

For the past year, the Board of Selectmen and Planning Board have been building a rezoning proposal for the site, now known as the Andover Transit Oriented Development District. The plan aims to add more development options at the site and has been viewed by some as a referendum to relocate the Town Yard off-site if approved. The proposal makes up two articles — one for the zoning language, and the other to modify the zoning map — at this year’s Annual Town Meeting, scheduled for May 6-8.

The town property alone is believed to be worth around $3 million if mixed-use zoning – residential and commercial development – is added. Fears about the expense of cleaning the site have been part of the conversation, with officials concerned about how developers might view the contamination when making their offers to the town.

Immediately following the presentation, the Board of Selectmen voted to recommend that Town Meeting voters approve both warrant articles. The recommendations came in two 4-1 votes, with Selectman Mary Lyman opposing both proposals.

Her opposition was largely driven by being “not in favor of changing the purpose of the Town Yard (land),” she said.

From the beginning of the process, Lyman has supported redeveloping the Town Yard at its current location, which officials have said would become the town’s next direction if voters reject the zoning district proposal next month.

With the vote coming at after 9 p.m. Monday, MassDevelopment officials launched a multi-family housing tour at the Town Yard for prospective developers, bringing a bus full of professionals to the site shortly after 8 a.m. Tuesday morning.

The tour also hit other sites in the Merrimack Valley, championing development opportunities in Andover’s Brickstone Square, the Canal District Revitalization Area in Lawrence, Machine Shop Village and the Osgood Street Smart Growth District in North Andover, and the Downtown Smart Growth District in Haverhill.

“The Patrick/Murray administration has a goal of 10,000 additional multi-family units this year in the Commonwealth,” MassDevelopment CEO Marty Jones said. “The best way we know to do it is to get developers, the real people who are actually going to help us meet the goal, to see places they might otherwise not think about.”

James Arthur Jemison, deputy undersecretary for the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, said his department wants “to embrace communities” that offer new project opportunities for developers.

“There’s local decision-making that has to go on, but the community taking the time to create a plan to work through it, we really support that initiative, no matter what the Town Meeting finally does,” Jemison said. “All the area cities and towns take care of their political side. When the community decides, we’re going to embrace this.”