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Foxborough aims to bring fresh energy to Route 1

Even as the Patriots pursue another run at the Super Bowl, Foxborough is exploring ways to bring fresh energy to the Route 1 corridor that includes the team’s home stadium.

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council will begin a land-use study early next year looking at what type of growth would be best suited for the 4 miles of the highway in town, and the zoning changes and public investment that might bring it about.

Officials said the study will complement a separate effort by the town planning board to develop new recommendations for Route 1 as part of its ongoing update to the town’s master plan.

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Town planner Sharon Wason said the new focus on Route 1 could benefit the whole town.

“Route 1 is our economic engine,’’ she said, “and if we want to continue to invest in our schools, maintain our roads, and support our town budget, we have to keep it healthy and vibrant and paying taxes.”

Wason said the goal is to create a “positive vision” for the corridor, which stretches from the State Police barracks to Demetri’s Red Snapper Restaurant.

The $35,000 study is being funded in part with $25,000 that the state Department of Transportation recently awarded the planning council through a grant program to help communities plan for the potential arrival of the South Coast Rail line. The council covered the remaining cost through state funds it receives to provide technical assistance to communities.

The master plan is scheduled for completion the end of next June, well before the study is finished. But officials said the master plan could include preliminary results of the study and be amended later to incorporate the full report.

Apart from Gillette Stadium and adjacent Patriot Place, which along with the Patriots and the New England Revolution are owned by the Kraft Group, the town’s stretch of Route 1 is underutilized, Wason said. Much of the land is vacant, she said, some of it used for parking on Patriots’ game days.

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“Clearly, that is not premier land use in anybody’s thinking,” Wason said, estimating there are 24,000 to 26,000 of those parking spaces. Other uses along the road include restaurants, a lumber business, small office buildings, motels, a storage facility, a truck terminal, several gas stations, and a mobile home park.

Wason said growth along the road has been limited, in part by the lack of either sewer service or land suitable for septic systems. The only existing sewer lines, she said, are the private ones used by the Kraft Group for its property. She said outdated zoning rules have also been a hindrance.

The study will evaluate the types of development that sewer service, coupled with new zoning rules, might bring. It will also address possible transportation improvements that could help support growth.

Kevin Weinfeld, the planning board’s chairman, said the panel focused on downtown Foxborough for the first part of the master plan study, and now welcomes the chance to direct its attention to Route 1.

“We’re excited about it,” he said. “This is a real chance for us to expand the type of uses that are up there and hopefully to provide jobs and opportunities for people who want to come to Foxborough, things that haven’t been available to us on Route 1.”

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The planning effort comes as the Kraft Group has initiated discussions with the town about possible changes to height and setback zoning requirements, and to local ground water protection rules, to allow for future growth on its Route 1 area properties, according to Wason. The town created a special zoning district to allow for development of the stadium, which opened in 2000.

A Kraft Group representative discussed the possible changes affecting its property at a Nov. 19 public meeting held by the planning board to kick off the Route 1 planning effort. The changes could come before Town Meeting as early as next spring.

Wason said the town welcomes the participation of the Kraft Group in the overall Route 1 planning process.

Jeremie Smith, a spokesman for the Kraft Group, said by e-mail that the firm would refrain from commenting “until we learn more about the study and its process.”

Other smaller Route 1 landowners at the meeting last month voiced support for updating the zoning along the corridor, according to Wason. She said several indicated they wanted to see the type of changes originally enacted for the stadium land extended to the entire road.

Many of the vacant lots now used for game day parking, located on the west side of Route 1 across from the stadium and Patriot Place, are owned by the Kraft Group and other entities, according to Wason. She said there has been some discussion over the years of building parking structures to free up the Kraft-owned lots for other use, but there are no current plans for that.

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Wason said the Kraft Group has not yet indicated its plans for future development of its available land, most of which is on that western side of the roadway. But based on the market, she said a potential use would be a high-tech office park, which zoning would allow.

The MBTA recently advised the town that it is pursuing a plan to offer express weekday commuter rail service to the stadium using a freight line it is purchasing. The agency said it was negotiating with the Kraft Group to use part of the stadium lot for commuter parking. Wason said the company has been supportive of rail service to accommodate future growth.

Steve Winter, economic development manager for the planning council, praised the town for focusing on the roadway’s future.

“Particularly on Route 1, it’s important to get a handle on that because everyone knows higher density is coming sooner or later,” he said. “This is an opportunity to put in some zoning” to control that growth, including landscaping and other rules to enhance the road's appearance.

Winter said that if, as expected, the study finds that the retail market is saturated in the Foxborough area, it would likely look to uses such as office and retail development, noting that they could bring some of the higher-skilled, well-paying jobs the region needs.


John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.