The Town Council approved re-zoning at 7-11 Independence Avenue this week even though several members and neighbors remain concerned about environmental cleanup at the site and how the property will be developed.
Despite those issues, councilors and at least one resident argued that re-zoning a portion of the property from Residence B to General Business seemed to be the only way to start cleaning up a long-blighted slice of land at the gateway to Braintree.
"It's tough that the property hasn't been cleaned up already. That we haven't been getting our taxes already," Councilor Charles Ryan said. "If we don't move forward with this, it's going to sit there and continue to be contaminated."
The vote was 7-1, with Paul "Dan" Clifford dissenting and Ronald DeNapoli absent. Clifford said he voted against the measure because the majority of residents in attendance Tuesday night were against re-zoning without more details about what developer Tom Fitzgerald might propose for the site.
Scott Palmer, who inherited the property when his father died in 2001, owes Braintree approximately $160,000 in back taxes. The site is also contaminated with petroleum, lead and silver, according to a preliminary assessment done by Green Environmental.
Further assessment, remediation and cleanup could cost between $100,000 and $250,000 depending on the extent of contamination, and take about a year, said Robert J. Leventry, a Division Manager for Green.
"It's something that's very manageable to clean up," he said.
In 1986, a 3,000-gallon gasoline storage tank was removed from the property and holes were found in its bottom. Three additional tanks were removed in 2008, and an abandoned hydraulic lift system the following year.
The environmental project is on hold now with the state Department of Environmental Protection, Leventry said, because of lack of funding. Attorney Jack Garland said it cannot move forward, nor can the back taxes be paid, without the re-zoning because only then will Fitzgerald step in to support the site financially.
Neighbors, who submitted a 34-signature petition urging the council to provide "due process and consideration" to those living in the area, questioned why more details about potential development by Fitzgerald could not be shared prior to the re-zoning.
"It has been our position from the beginning that we are not against developing the parcel of land in question – if it is done in a manner that will benefit both the neighborhood and the town," the group's letter said. "However, we believe that would require a complete review and vetting of potential developments by the parties involved before any rezoning is to be considered."
Council President Charles Kokoros stressed that even after a re-zone, the developer will need to make the site whole financially and environmentally before submitting plans to town officials. Then the Planning Board would likely have to thoroughly vet the plans, depending on the type of development.
General Business zoning allows a number of projects by right, including schools, day cares, churches, small retail developments, restaurants and funeral homes, but for the most part requires special permits received from the Planning Board, Kokoros said.
Developing the site would contribute to beautification efforts already undertaken in the Washington and Common street area, Mayor Joseph Sullivan said in a letter to the council.
"Failure to re-zone the parcel as a continguous use will result in a failure to have a public dialogue – through a public planning board process – for potential improvements to the site," Sullivan wrote.
The neighbors disagreed with that argument, though, saying that a previous discussion of 405 Franklin St., which became TD Bank, saw the potential development vetted by the council prior to re-zoning.
They also disputed statements by town officials and the developer that no plans had been submitted for 7-11 Independence Ave.
A mixed-use retail and residential plan was shown to residents earlier this year at a presentation in Quincy, and a scaled-down version with less units and no retail was shown to them, Sullivan and others several months ago. Neighbor Brian Black showed the council a copy of the plan that had been presented to him, which was dated May 30, 2012.
But formally, plans cannot be submitted without the environmental cleanup and payment of taxes, Kokoros said. Nothing that is shown as a potential development is official until it is stamped by local authorities, he said.
"I did not submit it to anyone," Fitzgerald said of the proposal for a 36-unit residential building.