The owner of the Millbrook Tarry property just outside historic Concord Center on Lowell Road is proposing to redevelop the small shopping plaza with a four-story building containing apartments and shops, with space for restaurants, a spa, and an upscale grocery store.
But neighbors are raising concerns about the size of the project, and how it would affect traffic, nearby historic districts, and the environment. And while officials said they like the idea of sprucing up the property and extending Concord Center, they think owner Jim White is moving too quickly.
“He is enthusiastic and has some great ideas,’’ said Marcia Rasmussen, Concord’s planning director. “We would like to encourage some kind of redevelopment, but it’s hard when he’s way ahead of us.’’
White has placed articles on next month’s Town Meeting warrant that would pave the way for what he said is the first major construction in Concord Center since the early 1800s. Rasmussen said, however, the project is not close to being ready for a vote. Instead, the Planning Board wants a task force to work with area neighbors and businesses to come up with a plan that fits the town’s history-filled legacy. The board created the task force last week.
White said his project fits in with what town officials, through the master planning process, have identified for the area. He said if Concord Center is to expand, the Millbrook Tarry site is the place to do it.
‘He is enthusiastic and has some great ideas. We would like to encourage some kind of redevelopment, but it’s hard when he’s way ahead of us.’
“It’s an attractive project that would meet the needs of local residents, and take an underutilized site and make something out of it,’’ White said.
But neighbors said they are relieved that town officials want to be deliberate about redevelopment efforts there.
“We need to take a step back and slow down,’’ resident Kristin Johnson said. “We aren’t resistant to change, we just want smart change. This individual seems to have interests that are in conflict with what’s best for Concord Center.’’
Johnson said the area is home to quiet, modest neighborhoods that should not be ruined by traffic and four-story structures.
She described White’s design as a “monolithic monstrosity’’ that is too dense, would create too much traffic, could harm a nearby brook, and does not take the historic character of Concord Center into consideration.
“We aren’t a four-story town,’’ she said.
Millbrook Tarry is the gateway from the northwest on Lowell Road into Concord Center. White describes it as unplanned, underused, and unattractive. The current commercial tenants are Citizens Bank, Rite Aid, and Trail’s End Café and Corner Store.
His plan calls for demolishing the Rite Aid building, and constructing new space for the pharmacy and a grocery store. The project would also include retail space, a spa, a restaurant, ice cream shop, 58 apartments, and 300 parking spaces, half of which would be underground. The Trail’s End Café, which is owned by White’s daughter, would expand into a pub.
White said his project would fill needs for Concord residents, such as housing, generate tax revenue for the town, and encourage public awareness of the Mill Brook.
“The general feeling in town is that it’s a positive thing,’’ White said.
The 5-acre site is within walking distance of Concord Center, which is home to shops and restaurants that White said cater to tourists. There are three historic districts that converge in Concord Center — Main Street, American Mile, and Monument Square/North Bridge. The districts are home to such sites as the Ralph Waldo Emerson House, the home of Nathaniel Hawthorne, the home of the Alcott family, and the North Bridge and other the American Revolution battleground landmarks.
In order for the project to proceed, White still needs to submit an official plan and purchase an adjacent parcel from the town on Keyes Road. The town’s Historic Districts Commission, Planning Board, Natural Resources Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, and Public Works Commission all would need to sign off on the project.
Town Meeting would also need to approve any zoning changes, including one that would allow a four-story structure.
White placed three zoning articles on the annual Town Meeting warrant related to his project to get the ball rolling; however, he has decided to hold off on those for now. He does, however, want to move forward with an article that would authorize the town to sell the Keyes Road parcel.
Rasmussen said the town would like to see a mix of development on the property, including restaurants and housing. She said the town held a workshop in the fall that focused on the site, and how a project could be tied into Concord Center.
But she said the Planning Board is not ready to take up zoning changes, and was caught off guard by White’s warrant articles. She also said the article authorizing the sale of the Keyes Road property cannot move forward this year. She said the town has not yet declared the property as surplus, and cannot sell it without seeking bids on it.Yet Rasmussen also said the Planning Board is interested in working on the project, however,which is why it created the task force.
Carmin Reiss, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said Concord officials want to work with White and the neighbors to come up with a project that is best for the town.
“From the Board of Selectmen’s perspective, we are delighted to see discussions happening,’’ Reiss said. “This is a parcel of land that is centrally located and is of importance to the town. We would love to see a development that enhances the town center and augments our parking supply, and gives folks in town more options for retailers and services. It just has to go through the process. It’s complicated.’’
White said he will only go ahead with the project if it is something the town and residents support. But he hopes naysayers come around to his view.
“It’s a difficult project in that it represents significant change to a New England town, and change of this magnitude is not easy,’’ he said. “But once you get past that notion and look at what it provides, it becomes a real positive thing for the town.’’