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Telegram & Gazette (Massachusetts)
WORCESTER - The city is scaling back the scope of the proposed amendment to its Downtown Urban Revitalization Plan it is has filed with the state, so it only includes those properties considered necessary for the ballpark project in the Canal District/Kelley Square area.
The properties that have been identified for acquisition are at: 90 Washington St. and 2 Plymouth St. (Bafaro/Rasnick Properties); 50 Washington St. (Serena Massey Trustees); 62 and 69 Washington St. (Worcester Ambulance LLC); 127 Washington St. (Paul J. Harrington) and 134 Madison St. (Grady Holdings).
In addition, there are three vacant parcels have been listed for possible future acquisition, though there is no intent to do so at this time. They are 5, 7 and 8 Gold St.
In a filing recently made in accordance with the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act, the Worcester Redevelopment Authority was looking to expand the footprint of its downtown urban revitalization area by 21 acres to facilitate the planned $240 million redevelopment of the Canal District/Kelley Square area.That project includes the construction of a 10,000-seat ballpark that will be the new home of the Boston Red Sox's top minor league team starting in the 2021 season, as well as a planned $90 million private development that is expected to include hotel, retail, office and residential uses.
The amended urban renewal area boundary was to encompass 33 additional properties on approximately 21 acres.
In addition to the parcels needed to build the ballpark, Michael Vigneux, the city's media relations specialist, said the proposed amendment identified other parcels in the Canal District and Green Island neighborhood to highlight their highest and best use to prompt further investment in that area.
He said it was a strategy that follows the vision and goals initially set forth in the WRA Downtown Revitalization Plan that was adopted two years ago.
Part of the boundary expansion that was being eyed was on the southern part of the district along Lamartine Street to as far east as Kelley Square.The amendment also called for moving the eastern boundary of the district a block from Washington Street to incorporate properties on the west side of Green Street, from Kelley Square to Temple Street.
But the scope of the proposed amendment caught city councilors and others off guard, with some fearing that it would lead to widespread land-takings and the demolition of several buildings.
City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. said that was never the intent.
He told the City Council Tuesday night that the city has no plans to acquire any property other than those properties that have previously been identified for the purposes of the ballpark.
"It's unfortunate that the MEPA filing did not allow adequate time for the city to engage the public in this process and did not afford our residents and business owners an opportunity to review and respond to the amendment," Mr. Augustus said in a statement issued Thursday.
To address those concerns, Mr. Augustus said the city will modify the proposed amendment to the Urban Revitalization Plan, as well as the MEPA filing, to include only those properties that are essential to the ballpark project at this time.
He said the WRA board and the City Council will be presented with the properties that are required to move the ballpark construction forward, along with some vacant land immediately adjacent to the ballpark site.
"We want to be deliberate and transparent throughout the process," Mr. Augustus said. "We will continue to have community discussions and public input to future proposed amendments to the Urban Revitalization Plan in order to spotlight properties for development opportunities and improve the quality of life in the neighborhood."
Negotiations are underway with the owners to acquire those properties, which are in the vicinity of the proposed ballpark site, north of Madison Street.The manager said if no sales agreement can be reached for those properties, then the WRA would take them through eminent domain. But he added that eminent domain is a strategy of last resort.
Michael E. Traynor, the city's chief development officer, said the WRA and city cannot move forward on acquiring properties for the ballpark until the proposed plan amendment is approved by the City Council and the state Department of Housing and Community Development."We can't acquire any of the land within the plan's amended area until the amendment passes at the state level," he said.
By expanding the boundaries for the Downtown Urban Revitalization Plan area to incorporate additional land near the proposed ballpark site, the WRA will be able to exercise urban renewal actions there, including land acquisition, if it becomes necessary.The city is partnering with the WRA on the ballpark project.But while the city has taken the lead on several aspects related to the project, it does not have the authority to get involved with land acquisition or takings. The WRA has the power to do so, but it can only do it within designated urban renewal districts.
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