ROCKLAND — With much pomp and fanfare, state and local officials celebrated the grand opening of a new parkway at the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station this week. Named in honor of former US representative William D. Delahunt, the new road provides unprecedented access to the old military base and SouthField, the mixed-use development being built there.
But a sense of uncertainty still looms over the future development of the rest of the property, which covers approximately 1,400 acres within the towns of Abington, Rockland, and Weymouth.
Starwood Land Ventures LLC, a Lakewood Ranch, Fla.-based residential real estate investment company, recently acquired the property and announced that it would be making changes to the SouthField redevelopment plan. Company officials have not yet communicated what those changes might be. They plan to unveil their proposal in the fall.
At the same time, the South Shore Tri-Town Development Corp., the agency overseeing the redevelopment, has been the target of much criticism lately. In May, State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump suggested a shake-up of Tri-Town’s leadership, and most recently, in an Aug. 17 editorial, the Patriot Ledger called for the resignation of Tri-Town’s board of directors.
All five members of Tri-Town’s board of directors — who are each appointed by their respective towns — say they have no plans to resign. They dismiss the criticism as a political tug of war over control of a very large — and valuable — parcel of real estate in their backyards. They say they are working hard to represent the local interests of residents of the three towns, and point to the recent opening of the Bill Delahunt Parkway as an example.
On Aug. 19, more than 150 people gathered at the new SouthField entrance on the Rockland side of the former military base for the opening celebration. Norfolk County Treasurer Joseph A. Connolly, who serves as chairman of Tri-Town’s board of directors, was the master of ceremonies. Connolly, along with Weymouth Mayor Susan M. Kay and US Representative Stephen F. Lynch, a South Boston resident, stood by as Delahunt used a pair of shiny scissors to clip a red ribbon and officially open the boulevard.
Delahunt then took his first ride in a dark green 1929 Model A Ford decorated with American flags that fluttered in the wind while traveling along the smooth, freshly paved road.
The 1.7-mile road from Weymouth Street to Shea Memorial Drive gives motorists a new route between Route 3 in Rockland and Route 18 in Weymouth. It also provides sweeping views of the vast expanse of land that’s waiting to be developed inside the base, which closed in 1997.
“It gives you an indication of how much land we have,” said Connolly. “There’s so much potential in this project it’s unbelievable.”
This part of the parkway cost $45 million and was funded by the state ($30 million) and federal government ($15 million). A second section, to be built, will connect Shea Memorial Drive with Trotter Road.
The parkway has long been viewed by officials as a major selling point of SouthField, which could one day, according to the current reuse plan, include up to 2,855 homes, 2 million square feet of commercial space, an 18-hole golf course, and athletic facilities. Progress has been slower than expected. So far, approximately 266 housing units have been completed at SouthField, and about 500 people live there.
The future of the project is now being revised by Starwood Land Ventures LLC, whose officials are expected to present their proposal to the Tri-Town board of directors on Oct. 7.
Speculation abounds about Starwood’s plans: Does it want to build more homes? Might it want to bring a hotel or even a casino into the mix?
Robert Glantz, vice president of land for Starwood Land Ventures, did not return a phone call and e-mail seeking comment for this story.
Tri-Town officials said they did not have details about the developer’s new plan.
“We don’t know if it will be one page, 10 pages, or 100 pages,” said Jim Lavin of Abington, who was appointed to Tri-Town’s board of directors in 2008.
One of the biggest concerns for residents of the three towns is the possibility more housing will be added. The towns worry that if Starwood decides to focus more on building homes than on attracting commercial development, they will end up bearing the additional costs of providing municipal services to SouthField residents.
Gerard Eramo, a Tri-Town board member from Rockland, said if Starwood unveils a plan to build mostly housing, “I don’t think it’s going to be well received by the majority of people in town.”
“If it comes at a higher cost to the towns, and higher taxes, that’s going to be a problem,” he said.
Kay said she is looking forward to seeing Starwood’s proposal, declining to offer her opinion until she sees it.