Housing unfolds at former air base
WEYMOUTH — There’s a new neighborhood coming to SouthField, the big mixed-use community being built on the grounds of the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station.
Paul Hickey, director of development for LNR Property LLC, the Florida-based real estate company in charge of redeveloping the former military base, said 32 acres of trees and brush near the South Weymouth commuter rail station will be cleared to make way for Winterwoods, a hamlet of 115 cottages and townhouses slated to be completed by 2014. “We’re in the early planning and design phase,” he said.
Hickey said LNR is working with its engineers and master plan architect to design the new neighborhood. Once they have plans ready, LNR will apply for permits from the South Shore Tri-Town Development Corp., which acts as SouthField’s municipal government. Once permits are in place, engineers will finalize plans for roads and infrastructure, LNR will sell the lots to homebuilders, and construction will begin.
Hickey said the trees that currently cover the Winterwoods site are too small to be used for lumber, so they are probably headed for the woodchipper. A small waterway known as French’s Stream runs through the site.
LNR hopes that construction will begin by the end of the summer, so residents could move in as early as 2014, said Hickey.
Two local developers, Interactive Building Group of Hingham and Whitman Homes of Canton, have expressed interest in building houses at Winterwoods, said Tricia Bruno, marketing director for SouthField.
Both firms have built houses in SouthField’s first neighborhood, known as SouthField Highlands.
Because Winterwoods would be built next to SouthField Highlands, Winterwoods would be a “continuation of the Highlands,” Bruno said.
After Winterwoods, the third neighborhood will probably be an apartment complex known as SouthField Crossing. Located south of Trotter Road, it would consist of two or three apartment buildings containing a total of 200 units, Hickey said.
There are about 500 people living in SouthField Highlands, which will have 650 units when it is complete.
The completed SouthField project could have as many as 2,855 units of housing and 2 million square feet of commercial space.
The Cottages at Hollybrook, a cluster of 31 houses under construction at SouthField Highlands, have been an easy sell for Interactive Building Group: Twenty-eight of them are already under agreement, according to the company.
Gene Raymond, one of the company’s principals, says he wants to build more of these cottage-style houses at Winterwoods. They have 1,400 square feet of floor space, with two bedrooms and 2½ bathrooms, and are priced in the $300,000 range.
Bruno said the cottages are geared to empty nesters, young professionals, and young married couples who want to own a single-family home but enjoy “stress-free maintenance-free living . . . what we call easy living.”
People who buy houses at SouthField agree to pay regular fees to their homeowners association, which takes care of snow removal, landscaping, and maintenance of the common greenspace.
Bruno said it is up to the homebuilders and developers to decide what kind of environmentally friendly or green features would be included in their buildings. “It’s up to the individual builder to do as much as they can,” she said.
The environmental impact of redeveloping the former naval base has raised concerns among a number of local residents and activists.
A citizens group called the Advocates for Rockland, Abington, Weymouth, and Hingham has long criticized the project for moving forward without first securing its own water supply or waste-water treatment facility.
“They haven’t done what they said they were going to do,” said Mary Parsons, a former Rockland selectwoman who is a founding member of the Advocates and an outspoken critic of the SouthField project.
The massive development has also hit snags and delays in the depressed economy. A plan to build movie studios on the site has apparently stalled. (Several calls and e-mails to studio executives were not returned.) And SouthField still needs businesses to occupy the commercial space that is planned.
But LNR has been pushing forward with the residential portion of its master plan and celebrating milestones reached, no matter how small.
The company was chosen as master developer of the shuttered base in 2002. On Jan. 24, Starwood Property Trust and Starwood Capital Group, an investment firm headquartered in Greenwich, Conn., announced an agreement to acquire LNR for $1.05 billion. Local officials expect few changes to LNR’s plans for SouthField
The next milestone for the development will be next month’s opening of Trotter Road, a freshly paved street on the western part of the base that runs from SouthField Highlands to the South Weymouth commuter rail station and Route 18.
Meanwhile, The Commons at SouthField Highlands, the first apartment complex to be built at SouthField, is trying to get silver certification under the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building program.
Bruno said residents and homebuilders are pleased with how SouthField is progressing.
“We’re thrilled that the vision for the project has been so well received,” she said. “It just energizes us to keep going. The commitment is very real.”