Published in the January 27, 2020 edition.

By MARK SARDELLA

WAKEFIELD — Get ready for the possibility of another huge residential development in town, this time right on the shores of Wakefield’s jewel, Lake Quannapowitt.

Just weeks after securing the necessary Special Permits and other zoning relief that would have allowed them to lease out the former American Mutual/Comverse building at the head of the Lake for research and development, laboratory and office use, current owner Waterstone Properties has quietly held several “informal” meetings with groups of local residents to float the idea of a large residential development on the site. (Waterstone purchased the 24-acre property at 200-400 Quannapowitt Parkway in January of 2018 for $15 million.)

The latest such meeting took place last Thursday night in a conference room at the 200 Quannapowitt Parkway property. Members of the Friends of Lake Quannapowitt were invited to the meeting and select other residents received the following email:

“Waterstone Properties has invited the Friends of Lake Q to meet with their partner, Cabot Cabot and Forbes, and be briefed on their initial plans for residential development at 200 Quannapowitt Pky. As this is a significant change in their plans to date, I want to extend an invitation to you to attend. It is scheduled for Thursday Jan 23, 7:30pm in their building.”

Approximately 25 local residents attended the meeting. No town officials were present at Thursday’s meeting, according to residents who attended. The press was not invited.

The main presentation last Thursday night was reportedly led by Jay Doherty, chief executive officer of Cabot Cabot & Forbes. One of Boston’s oldest and largest real estate development companies, Cabot Cabot & Forbes has interests nationwide. Also on hand at Thursday’s meeting was Anton Melchionda, Waterstone’s Managing Partner.

Waterstone focuses primarily on commercial development, an individual familiar with their operations told the Item. A change in direction toward residential would explain the involvement of Cabot Cabot and Forbes, a major developer of large residential complexes.

According to several individuals who attended the meeting, if, as now seems likely, the decision is made to move in the direction of residential development, it would mean demolishing the current building. Options discussed at the meeting included condominiums, apartments and even the possibility of an assisted living component.

Those at the meeting came away with the impression that any residential development on the site would have to be large, likely on the order of hundreds of units in several multistory buildings.

Some of Cabot Cabot & Forbes recent projects include 120 Commerce Way, a 289-unit luxury multifamily housing development in Woburn; St. Gabriel’s in Brighton, consisting of 555 privately-owned and operated apartment residences and 105 condominiums; the 350-unit Charles River Landing in Neeedham; and “Deco,” a 180-unit, market rate multifamily housing development completed in Quincy in 2016.

Several residents at last Thursday’s meeting expressed concern about the impact that a major residential development on the site could have on local schools.

There has also been growing concern among town officials regarding Wakefield’s eroding commercial tax base, with multifamily residential projects springing up in traditionally commercial/industrial districts like Foundry Street.

Any new proposal for residential development at 200-400 Quannapowitt Parkway would require all new filings and hearings in front of the Zoning Board of Appeals. The Conservation Commission would also have a major role in the permitting process for the lakeside property.

The current building on the site is one of the original campus-style buildings that sprang up along the highway during the 1950s commercial boom that followed the completion of Route 128. It is one of the few, and may well be the last, remaining such building from that era.

When the building opened in 1958, it was home to American Mutual Insurance Company, employing over 800 people. It was subsequently occupied by Comverse Network Systems and most recently by Digital Realty Trust, a data storage firm.

In December 0f 2019 Waterstone was granted Special Permits and other relief from the Board of Appeals related to its stated plans to lease space in the building for research and development and offices.