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Target, BJ’s plans not dead yet for Sharon, officials say

A plan to bring Target and BJ’s Wholesale Club to Sharon is not dead yet, town officials said last week, despite events that called the fate of the development into question.

Both the town administrator and the chairman of the Board of Selectmen suggested the town and Target could still reach a compromise on the issue that sparked objections on the Zoning Board: whether the shopping center’s main road would have two lanes or four. But the developer said dialogue with the town had been informal, and no compromise appeared forthcoming.

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“We’re stuck right now,” said Dean Stratouly, president of the Congress Group, the development company working on the plaza.

Frustrated with the opposition on the Zoning Board, Target withdrew an application to modify the site plan before the board could vote at its June 13 meeting. The plan won approval months ago, but Target was seeking changes. It wanted to add two lanes to the plaza road, making it two lanes in each direction; to rotate the Target building 90 degrees; and to relocate one of the smaller buildings in the plaza.

Stratouly and town officials said the road was the sticking point with some Zoning Board members, who wanted to make sure the plaza, known as Sharon Commons, was safe and appealing for pedestrians.

‘My personal feeling is that if we don’t have Target, we are not going to have a development in Sharon.’

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If Target were to back out, the plaza might not be built. The construction of BJ’s, at least unofficially, was probably contingent upon Target’s commitment to the plaza, said William Heitin, chairman of the Board of Selectmen.

“My personal feeling is that if we don’t have Target, we are not going to have a development in Sharon,” he said.

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The prospect of losing Target did not sit well with many residents, who have been looking forward to the property tax revenue and the convenience of having the stores nearby. Heitin said he does not normally receive many calls from residents, but when word spread trouble might be brewing, he received numerous calls and e-mails, mostly in favor of Target.

“The feedback I got was, ‘We really want this; we like this development, and we really want Target,’ ” he said.

Two days after the Zoning Board meeting, he set up a conference call with company executives in Minneapolis that lasted about 90 minutes, he said, and based on that call and conversations with town officials, he believed the disagreement might be resolved.

“They were frustrated with what was going on, but they are absolutely committed to Sharon,” he said.

The town administrator, Benjamin Puritz, echoed the assertion that Sharon Commons could be saved. “The project is not DOA; it’s not dead on arrival,” he said.

Target, however, declined to comment. A company spokeswoman, Meghan Mike, said in an e-mail: “Target does not have any information to share on Sharon, Mass.”

John Lee, chairman of the Zoning Board, said he hopes the project moves forward.

“The issue is, it seems, the road,” he said.

Puritz said a group of people — including a Target representative, Heitin, and the town’s attorney — were working to refine the application in a manner that would be acceptable to the Zoning Board. Come July, the town expects to receive an application that will probably be heard at a July 25 Zoning Board meeting, he said.

Asked what a compromise might look like, Puritz said the group was talking about improving pedestrian access through crosswalks, landscaping, and wider medians.

They aim to make changes not just for safety, but also for aesthetics, to “soften” the look, he said.

Stratouly, the developer, said a four-lane road was the only layout that received approval from Target executives. At the last stage of corporate review, when senior executives voted on whether to fund a new store, they were concerned that fewer lanes would cause traffic to back up and foster unsafe conditions, he said.

He said he was “shocked and disappointed” when the position of the majority of the Zoning Board became apparent.

Engineers for the project were trying to incorporate traffic-calming measures, he said, “but every time you move one thing, you create a problem somewhere else.”

The approximately 450,000-square-foot plaza was expected to net close to $3 million annually in tax revenue for the town, taking into account the cost of additional police and fire protection, Heitin said.

Previously slated for an all-residential development of some 400 homes, the land at Exit 8 off Interstate 95 could revert to residential if the existing plan does not work, he said. Heitin said Sharon residents showed overwhelming support for Sharon Commons a number of years ago when they packed a Town Meeting and voted for a necessary zoning change within 15 minutes.

A separate, smaller residential development is still planned for adjacent land.

If the disagreement between Target and the Zoning Board is resolved promptly, Heitin said, he believes that construction will begin shortly and that Target will continue to work toward a 2013 opening.

Jennette Barnes can be reached at jennettebarnes@yahoo.com.

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