Published March 20, 2019
By DAN TOMASELLO
LYNNFIELD — The Board of Selectmen voted 2-1 Monday to support National Development’s proposal to bring a cinema to MarketStreet Lynnfield.
National Development has submitted a warrant article for the April 29 Town Meeting that would amend the Planned Village Development District (PVDD) agreement by allowing an eight-screen, 800-seat movie theater to be built at the outdoor mall, which is currently prohibited. If Town Meeting approves the warrant article by a two-thirds majority, the cinema and a parking garage designed to accommodate 300 cars would be built at the back of the property near Gaslight and Wahlburgers.
Additionally, National Development Managing Partner Ted Tye has pledged to invest between $750,000 and $1 million in traffic improvements if the cinema is approved. The traffic improvements include constructing a right turn lane onto the Route 95 South ramp off Exit 43 and installing an adaptive signal system at the Walnut Street intersection.
Since the cinema article was first unveiled to the selectmen last month, a number of residents have been speaking out against the project in Letters to the Editor and on social media.
Selectmen Chairman Dick Dalton and Selectman Phil Crawford both voted to endorse the cinema article. Selectman Chris Barrett voted no.
Crawford recalled that Town Meeting approved the MarketStreet development by a 1,592-391 vote in April 2007. While the theater has been proposed five times in the last 12 years, Crawford said the only time it was voted on was during the October 2008 Town Meeting.
“The theater was supported by a majority of the voters 237 to 143, but zoning changes require a supermajority and it failed by 17 votes,” said Crawford.
As part of the MarketStreet development, Crawford said National Development donated the land for the King Rail Reserve Golf Course, paid $1.5 million in project fees in order to prevent employee layoffs during the Great Recession and built the Al Merritt Center. He also said National Development agreed to turn the originally proposed condominium complex into MarketStreet Apartments, which he said “allowed the town to meet its Chapter 40B threshold.”
Crawford noted that MarketStreet has paid over $22 million in taxes to the town. He said revenue generated from MarketStreet enabled the fields project to get built and allowed the School Department to offer a tuition-free full day kindergarten program. He said revenue from MarketStreet allowed the town to purchase Centre Farm, allocated $2.5 million for road repairs, appropriated over $1 million for capital spending and balanced the town budget each fiscal year.
“These taxes have been used to maintain a thriving town and a top-tier school system,” said Crawford. “It is important that everyone knows that an additional building is already allowed under the original development agreement and it is only the use of the building that is being voted on at Town Meeting.”
Crawford argued that the cinema, along with the proposed infrastructure improvements, will reduce traffic during rush hour and would benefit the mall’s restaurants and stores.
“MarketStreet provides significant revenues and quality of life benefits to all of us, and will for many years to come,” said Crawford. “The town of Lynnfield is very fortunate to have MarketStreet. It is vital to all of us that MarketStreet continues to be vibrant and successful. I fully recommend the warrant article presented by National Development.”
While Crawford expressed his support for the warrant article, Barrett said the cinema project should be put on hold until the Lahey building has been up and running for a year.
“I do agree that MarketStreet has helped us out greatly,” said Barrett. “I think it’s important to see what the Lahey building’s impact will be once it’s fully rented, and what the impact will be on MarketStreet and the neighborhoods surrounding the development. I am not so much against the theater, but I can’t look at the neighbors surrounding MarketStreet right now and say I have done my due diligence to make a fully informed decision. I would urge caution as I did two years ago and will vote no on this warrant article.”
Dalton said he is “very much in favor” of bringing a theater to MarketStreet.
“I have given this a lot of thought over a period of 12 years when (MarketStreet) was in the development stages when it was first presented to the town while I served on the Planning Board,” said Dalton. “I would remind people that National Development is a partner. Whether you like it or not, they are a major part of our economy and we should be very cognizant of their viability. Obviously, everything needs to be balanced between the well-being of the town, abutters and the economics this provides for us.”
Dalton noted he, Town Administrator Rob Dolan and Town Counsel Tom Mullen spent this past weekend “negotiating changes to the development agreement” that would go into effect if the cinema moves forward.
“I feel confident it will protect the town,” said Dalton. “There is over $1 million in traffic improvements and if we don’t take advantage of these traffic improvements, the town is not going to be able to afford them. The Department of Transportation has offered up a letter recommending these improvements and is fairly confident they will have a positive impact.”
Dalton also said National Development has pledged to invest $300,000 in order to make improvements to Jordan Park.
“That is consistent with the board’s practice with other developments in town,” said Dalton. “The Woods of Lynnfield development, which will be voted on at Town Meeting, will pay the town $10,000 per townhouse. That is quite a significant sum. And if the Sagamore project comes to fruition, they will be subject to the same type of mitigation.”
Dalton also said the revised agreement would allow most of the movie theater to be built with the remaining retail space as opposed to office space. As a result, he said the only remaining parts of MarketStreet that would be developed would be the cinema and office space.
“For someone who has dealt in retail for decades in my professional career, dealing with the largest mall operators in the country and the world, you can see the dramatic changes that have taken place,” said Dalton. “It’s been going on for a while, not just in recent years. It’s critically important that the owner of a business be allowed to, within reasonable limits, conduct their business in a way that keeps them viable. Having (MarketStreet) stay viable keeps the cash flow coming with respect to tax revenues.”
Dalton noted he lived at MarketStreet Apartments for three years after he and his wife moved back to town from Seattle.
“I was in and out of MarketStreet seven days a week,” said Dalton. “There were traffic issues at certain times, there is no denying it. But it was not the inconvenience that some people make it out to be.”
Dalton recalled Herb Chambers encountered abutter opposition when the car dealership was looking to expand its Route 1 North location a number of years ago.
“The neighbors fought back and they prevailed,” said Dalton. “And they ended up with hundreds of apartment units (Lynnfield Commons) in their neighborhood. I think (the theater) will be a plus for the community and I am strongly in favor of it.”
MSAC member Wally McKenzie, a MarketStreet critic and cinema opponent, asked if residents could ask questions or comment on the project. Dalton said no.
After the selectmen voted 2-1 to recommend the cinema article, the Committee to Preserve Lynnfield issued the following statement.
“Their action ignores the recommendation of the police chief and the MarketStreet Advisory Committee to wait at least one year after the Lahey complex is fully leased and operational in order to evaluate the traffic and public safety impact before considering a multiplex at MarketStreet,” the group stated. “Very disappointed.”