Canton residents will face a difficult choice at Town Meeting: to leave a contaminated downtown property alone or allow a developer to clean it up and replace it with high-density housing.
The development proposal would put 348 housing units on the former Plymouth Rubber property on Revere Street , but selectmen are waiting for a consultant’s report before deciding whether or not the development would be good for the town.
The report should be ready by the end of February, the Board of Selectmen’s chairman, Robert Burr, said last week.
“We want to make sure we’re getting a good deal for the town,” Burr said.
Canton Development Partners LLC, a subsidiary of Illinois-based Napleton Co., owns the property and previously led an effort to rezone the property for a larger development. That effort failed at Town Meeting in 2008.
The current plan calls for 64 townhouse units, 80 age-restricted units for residents age 55 or older, and 204 apartments, Burr said.
The development comes on the heels of two other high-density housing projects moving forward in Canton, both of them as a part of the state’s Chapter 40B affordable-housing law, Burr said. In communities where less than 10 percent of the housing fits the state’s definition of “affordable,’’ the law allows a developer to avoid many local ordinances if at least 25 percent of the project’s housing units are affordable.
Because Canton has met the 10 percent threshold, the new plan is not being proposed under 40B.
Noting the succession of large housing projects in town, Burr said of the new proposal: “It’s not the best timing,” but added that housing markets could be unpredictable.
Burr said this effort might have more support from town leaders if the consultant’s report shows a benefit to the town.
The site has old buildings containing asbestos, and cleaning up the property would cost $5 million, according to Burr — $1 million for demolition, $3 million for asbestos removal and remediation of the buildings and building footprints, and $1 million for soil remediation.
“This is a unique property,” Burr said. “Because there is a high up-front cleanup cost, the town is asked to accept a higher density than would usually be allowed.”
The site is near Canton Center, where a high-density housing project could have large implications. However, Burr said, the property can’t simply be left as is.
“It is not good to have a contaminated waste site in the center of downtown,” Burr said.
The company’s lawyer, Paul Schneiders, did not return a call for comment by press time.
Residents who see the property as an eyesore have pressured selectmen to have it cleaned up. Other residents have argued against a large development, saying it would increase public education costs and increase taxes.
“People don’t want apartments there,” Selectman John Connolly said in a phone interview Monday. He said many spoke in opposition of the failed 2008 attempt to develop the property.
Selectwoman Avril Elkort said she would reserve judgment on the proposal until the consultant’s report was released, but she also expressed doubts.
“We have lots of apartments; it would be nice if it was something we needed,” Elkort said of the proposed development Monday. “Something for seniors would be very nice because [the property] is next to the train station.”
A further complication is that two buildings on the site have historic value — an old copper mill and a rolling mill used by Paul Revere. Burr expressed hope that the buildings will be preserved.
The consultant, Mark Babrowski, is an attorney specializing in affordable-housing law and has worked with the town before, Burr said.
What gives Burr hope the project may benefit Canton is that the developer invested $40,000 to study the effects of the housing project on the area. Babrowski and his team now are assessing the situation themselves.
If the project does not move forward, the property could remain contaminated or become the site of a less desirable project, such as a light industrial development, Burr said.
Support for the housing plan would have to be fairly widespread. A zoning change, which it would require, needs a two-thirds majority vote at the May 13 Town Meeting.