NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

January 25, 2013

Still no takers for MBTA land

BY DYKE HENDRICKSON
STAFF WRITER

---- — NEWBURYPORT — It is said that the demand for real estate in this city is strong, but one property that has not inspired buyers is an 11.1-acre parcel on Boston Way, near the train station.

The land is owned by the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, and yesterday city and state officials hosted an informational meeting to interest developers in purchasing the parcel.

They sought ideas from the developers on what would make the land attractive for competitive bidding, perhaps because when the parcel went out for bid in July, there were no participants at a starting figure of about $1.5 million

“We want to get your ideas on what would interest you about this property,” said Greg Winter, senior project manager for Transit Realty Advisors, the MBTA division that develops excess property.

Though the land is controlled by the MBTA, the city has an interest in the outcome. Municipal leaders have been studying this area of the city for more than a decade and want it to emerge as part of a Smart Growth Zoning Overlay District with multiple uses including commercial and residential.

Planning Director Andy Port said at the meeting that the city is determined to include some affordable housing units there.

City officials say that “not less than 20 percent” of the units to be developed should be affordable under the “Chapter 40R” housing program that is being followed.

Candidates for affordable housing are defined as individuals and families whose annual income is less than 80 percent of area-wide median income. Based on state statistics, a family with an income of $51,400 would qualify.

“We have our goals, but we want to work with developers so they can create a project that works for them and for us,” said Port.

Only about 7.8 percent of the city’s housing stock is “affordable.”

The city is attempting to reach 10 percent, a figure that state officials encourage and that would help the city in future bids for state funding of various community projects.

Five separate parcels on Boston Way are for sale, but only about 5.2 acres of the total can be developed due to wetlands issues.

The prime part of the usable acreage would be the first parking lot on the western extremity.

Parts of wild acreage on the other side of Boston Way could be built upon, but state officials said that developers should embark on due diligence with environmental experts to determine just how much land near the wetlands could be used.

Several structures in the vicinity would not be part of a purchase price, Winter said.

One is a building off Boston Road that currently houses an emergency-medical service company. Its owner is reportedly open to selling, at a desired price of about $2 million, it was said.

Nor is another structure, the large empty “train station” in a parking lot off Boston Way, part of the bidding process.

State and city officials say they have the intention of improving this notably vacant building, but no specifics were given.

Winter and Port said that one variable in the bidding process is that the developer’s plans would have to coincide with a municipal ordinance that would govern the development of this acreage.

The council has not finalized such an ordinance, and several developers said that much “conversation” would have to take place before serious bids could be made.

Representatives from local development companies including L.D. Russo, Stratford Realty, Green & Co. and MINCO Corp. attended the session.