September 21, 2008

Saxonville Lumber site plans: Details and my comments

I got a look at Tony Kwan's plans for the old Saxonville Lumber site yesterday. While as Brett said in the comments, the plan isn't everything I hoped it might be, it's a huge improvement over what's there now, and a lot better than plenty of other possible site uses.

[caption id="attachment_744" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Model of Riverview Plaza project at the old Saxonville Lumber site. Click image to see larger version."]Model of Riverview Plaza, Tony Kwan's proposal for the old Saxonville Lumber site.[/caption]

Here's a photo of the model of what the Saxonville Riverview Plaza would look like. The existing larger building will be kept where it is, but renovated  to become a "two-story facility with a contemporized colonial facade." An "ornamental exterior deck" would be a covered walkway with planters.  This building would be used as a health club, medical offices and small bank area. The new, smaller building would be for retail.

[caption id="attachment_748" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Artist rendition of proposed Riverview Plaza building facades (click image to view larger version)."]Artist's rendition of proposed Riverview Plaza building facades (click image to view larger version).[/caption]

You can see an artist's rendition of what the building facades would look like in the photo at the right.

Developer Tony Kwan says he's willing to donate some property to widen Concord Street there and provide an additional travel lane. The big intersection on the model photo above is at Concord and A streets.

I'm not a traffic-flow expert, and am not sure how you'd keep traffic from backing up on Concord and School streets with a traffic light at Concord and A. But I  hope that can be figured out.

I do know something about pedestrian-friendly development and walkability, and that entrance/exit with the three lanes of  cars going in and out needs to be redesigned; an unbroken driveway three lanes wide is a walkable-streetscape killer. This can be easily fixed by cutting the entering and exiting driveway to two lanes; or, if that's not possible, by putting a decent divider between the entering and exiting lanes, giving walkers a wide enough place to pause and not feel threatened by the traffic. In addition, a great deal of thought needs to be given to that intersection to make it not only theoretically possible to cross the street safely, but make it feel safe and like a compelling walking corridor.

[caption id="attachment_746" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Poster explaining some features of the proposed Riverview Plaza. Click image to see larger version"]Poster explaining some features of the proposed "Pocket Park" at the planned Riverview Plaza.[/caption]

One of the most intriguing parts of the project is a so-called "pocket park" that will give both access and view to the Sudbury River. Here's a photo of an explainer for the park. Plans say it will include paved walkways, benches overlooking the river, bicycle racks and a drinking fountain. I hope he'll consider including a restaurant or cafe with outdoor seating facing the river and that park, to integrate the two and make the park part of the retail experience, instead of having a big blank wall with no windows or doors facing the river.

In general, though, this is a great addition to the Saxonville business district, since right now it's all but impossible to see or enjoy the river from most commercial areas of the Saxonville business district.

The Conservation Commission is scheduled to consider the project on Oct. 1, and the Planning Board on Oct. 16.


  1. How this helps create a walkable civic neighborhood hinges on what goes into the retail space. Are we talking about clothing boutiques which can't, by definition, serve many people? Or, e.g., organic food stores which can? The pocket park is fine, but if the surrounding areas aren't full of neighborhood people milling about, the park will degenerate into a trash-strewn area where people are afraid to go.

  2. The key in my opinion hinges on the architecture of the building abutting the park. A blank wall without windows, doors and other ways of integrating activity in the retail building with the park, will make it more likely the park will degenerate into an area where people don't want to go. Architecturally, little does more to discourages pedestrian activity than a big forbidding blank wall.

    As for specific retail uses, if there are certain uses the town wanted to encourage, the town should have been doing something with zoning, tax incentives and so on. We had 10 years to work with the property owner on this, and I'm not aware of anything specific the town was prepared to offer.

    In my opinion, the greatest input we can have on specific use at this point, if the neighborhood truly wants something like an organic food store, is as consumers. If people are truly serious, maybe someone should organize a group of people who agree to patronize a certain type of store, perhaps even pledge to buy an annual membership for X dollars/year for a few years in return for special discounts, tell Tony Kwan, and this might encourage him to try to recruit that kind of retail because it could make the site more appealing for a store owner.

  3. I think the other element to be considered is the 'dead space' of parking area between the big building and Concord Street. A third structure in there, with retail facing the street and the parking lot, maybe with a short arcade or walkway between them, would do much to make this more of a pedestrian-friendly facility. The presence of shops on the street — even a busy street like this — would slow cars down as drivers interacted with the presence of pedestrians and other distractions on the sidewalk. That third building would also potentially piazza-fy the 'square between the three buildings.

    A fourth building in the parking lot dead end to the left of the entrance, again facing both street and parking, and presumably park as well (lovely little restaurant, or café?) would serve to further contain and constrain that piazza. A fifth building, or a green, in the parking area between the existing and the first new building, would help further constrain the space and make it a suitable destination for pedestrians. Now it could almost be a town center on its own, especially if the buildings on the street were multi-story with condo or rental units on the second and third floor. If one of those buildings also contained a space suitable for a church, synagogue, or community center of some kind (See David Eggers on the Working Bucaneer's Pirate Supply Shop) then the space would be lively with civic space, too. A Masonic Hall or other fraternal lodge organization, which had some local presence and was interested in attracting new members, might be a good tenant/sponsor for this sort of project, too.

    Breaking the parking areas up into a series of smaller lots, which could be purchased or leased by businesses looking for a smaller space, would also be useful.

  4. Nice ideas all, Andrew! It would be great to have a plaza teaming with civic life replacing much of the asphalt ocean; but as far as I know, the town can't compel a private developer to *add* buildings to a plan! Although I suppose it would be possible to offer incentives to do so, which I'm not aware the town has ever done. In fact, I'd guess that level of density could violate zoning bylaws regarding required parking.

  5. A town can't compel it, you're right. THey can incentivize it, though.

    I live in a rural town, where a TJ Maxx, a Sears and a Stop&Shop share a parking lot easily three times the size of the three buildings. The parking lot isn't even full on the day before Thanksgiving. Ever.

    Ergo, the number of parking spots is too high for the square footage of the buildings.

  6. The Framingham Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee sent a
    letter to the Framingham Planning Board Administrator regarding
    pedestrian and bicycle accommodation along the frontage for this
    site. Here is a link to download the letter in PDF format.

    Please use this link if you wish to contact FBPAC directly.

    William Hanson
    FBPAC Chair