As the developers of a new mixed-use shopping center on the former Polaroid site in Waltham strive to stay on schedule to open some retail shops and restaurants by the end of this year, city officials and private planners will meet with state leaders this week to begin planning long-term traffic solutions for the thousands of cars the development will bring in weekly.
Developers of the 280,000-square-foot project have already agreed to pay for some basic traffic upgrades, such as widening Main Street slightly, adding turn lanes in and out of the plaza, updating the timing of traffic lights at two nearby intersections, and adding another traffic light at the entrance of the development, according to Waltham traffic officials.
Still, city leaders will be conferring with the state to figure out how best to funnel visitors from adjacent Route 128/Interstate 95 to the shopping center without jamming up traffic on the busy highway or clogging the surrounding neighborhood’s streets.
“There are all kinds of long-term ideas for traffic,” said Mayor Jeannette McCarthy. “We need guidance and input from the state so that we can plan for this instead of doing it piecemeal.”
The mayor said Waltham officials are meeting Thursday with state economic development leaders, and traffic and other infrastructure issues related to the Polaroid property will be on the agenda.
McCarthy said tentative plans include adding a ramp that would provide a direct link between the highway and the plaza, and presenting the development in an aesthetically pleasing way from the thoroughfare.
“The plans I have seen are really quite nice,” McCarthy said. “When we’re doing the highway side, it will be dressed up so people are not looking at the back of the retail area, and the front part will have a town green area.”
Representatives from the state Department of Transportation said in order to approve creating access from the highway, the developer must first conduct a traffic analysis, which has yet to be submitted. The project would also require approval from the Federal Highway Administration as well as the state. From there, officials would talk about funding.
Meanwhile, Waltham officials said the future remains uncertain in local traffic planning, since such a large-scale project is uncommon.
“For Waltham, a development of this size and nature is certainly a unique opportunity and challenge at the same time,” said the city’s traffic engineer, Michael Garvin. “The economic benefits are certainly worthy, but the challenge comes in how to best address the traffic impacts.”
Garvin said that Waltham officials would be using various traffic-handling tools, such as adding more traffic lights or upgrading roads.
“I wouldn’t want to rule out any options or take anything off the table at this point,” he said.
Meanwhile, buzz about the project has been getting louder. In late December, developers announced finalized storefronts for the plaza, including Market Basket, Starbucks, Marshalls, TD Bank, Bonefish Grill, and Jake n Joes Sports Grille. Construction of these spaces is scheduled to begin this spring, with partial occupancy by the end of the year, developers said.
McCarthy said that although she welcomes these tenants, she has spoken to developers about introducing a “more diverse” palette of shops.
“I would say it’s a good start, but we also want more overall retail for the city,” she said, adding that residents are already clamoring for the Market Basket grocery store to open.
Developers said they have spoken with McCarthy on the subject, and have taken her suggestions seriously while considering the other tenants yet to be finalized.
“Our goal is to create a dynamic shopping experience for people, and we’re talking with various tenants to create that mix we feel will be good for everyone in community,” said Steven Cucinatti, leasing agent for the plaza.
Cuccinatti said he could not announce the other finalized tenants yet, but expected to make them public in the next month.
“We think we already have a great lineup, and it only will get better,” he said.
Developers also wrote in an e-mail to McCarthy that they hope to install drive-throughs for certain businesses, a measure that would require City Council approval. However, councilors shot down requests for a Panera Bread drive-through last year at the Main Street Marketplace down the road from the former Polaroid site, citing traffic concerns.
And although some city officials fought for a home-rule petition last summer to increase the number of liquor licenses Waltham offers, which would have helped big-box restaurant chains in the new development procure licenses, McCarthy said the incoming eateries will have to purchase existing liquor permits — at least for now.
“When there are no more existing licenses, we will revisit the issue,” McCarthy said, noting that Jake n Joes has already snagged a full liquor license from a closed restaurant.
Developers said construction has adhered to their time frame, even though workers encountered unforeseen ledge underneath the property that called for blasting to continue into this spring —– months longer than originally planned.
The blasting has brought complaints from some neighbors. Although the blasting was started last summer to relocate power lines and was slated to be completed in October, the noisy bursts will continue for about six more weeks as construction workers finish removing the rock underneath the proposed Market Basket site, McCarthy said.