Turning trash to treasure
Reading, Mass., is putting the final touches on a new retail center that was built on the site of a former landfill. When fully occupied this fall, the economic development project is expected to generate approximately $750,000 in annual property tax revenue for the town of 24,000 residents.
Reading is a traditional, suburban, bedroom community in the greater Boston metropolitan area that is nearly built out, but only 8 percent of the town is commercially zoned. After the municipal landfill closed in the early 1980s, town leaders began searching for a way to turn it into a revenue-generating property. The 33.5-acre site in the town’s industrial zoning district is located adjacent to the major arterial around Boston (Route 128) and less than a mile from an intersection with an interstate highway (Route 93) with direct access to Boston. The site is directly off Walkers Brook Drive, which contains on and off ramps to the highway.
The town’s consultant prepared a master plan for re-use of the property, and, in July 2000, Quincy, Mass.-based Dickinson Development purchased the site. The company proposed building a mix of retail, office and hotel space to provide an economic return to the town, while avoiding the environmental and fiscal constraints of residential development. The developer agreed to pay $3 million to close and cap the landfill and pay another $3 million at the property’s closing in 2003. Construction began in winter 2002.
After the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection approved the landfill cap, Dickinson prepared the site for the building pads and parking fields, which are supported by more than 1,100 piles driven through the solid waste into bedrock. The developer also installed and maintains a methane monitoring and flare station on site. The first phase, which included construction of a Jordan’s Furniture, Home Depot and an IMAX Theater in the same 325,000-square-foot building, along with a stand-alone Chili’s restaurant, opened in August 2004.
The plans for the second phase called for a hotel and office building, however, after the permit was approved, the office and hotel market became stagnant. So, the developer proposed building 75,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space. Phase two — which includes a Macaroni Grill, Linens ‘n Things, Staples, Bear Rock Cafe, Starbucks, Bank of America and other commercial establishments — opened in August 2005.
The town received a $1.8 million public works grant from the state to improve infrastructure and mitigate traffic impacts on Walkers Brook Drive. As part of that process, the town addressed nearby neighborhood concerns about increased traffic on their streets. The integrity of a wildlife habitat bordering the development also was preserved and even enhanced by selective landscaping requirements and careful attention to the design of grading and stabilization.
State, local and federal agencies worked together for nearly 20 years to determine a fiscally beneficial reuse for Reading’s landfill that also would satisfy the concerns of nearby residential neighborhoods. So far, the development has served as a catalyst for more economic redevelopment in the area, attracting plans for mixed-use buildings, offices, and small and large retailers.
Chris Reilly, Reading town planner