Needham’s plans to coordinate with a Concord real estate developer to purchase and develop the Castle Farm property off Charles River Street as a combined open space and townhouse development remain stalled.
Town Meeting voted overwhelmingly last October to authorize $2.5 million in debt to purchase a significant portion of the 64-acre property and preserve it as open space. The purchase was contingent on many factors, starting with the developer, Northland Residential, acquiring the property.
Northland did enter into a purchase and sale agreement in December with the prospective sellers, the Trustee of the Foster Family Trusts, but that agreement has yet to result in a completed sale.
The town and Northland have not signed the required development agreement that would establish the terms under which the project would go forward. A draft of the agreement called for Northland to acquire the entire property and retain approximately 28 acres to construct a 70-unit, age-directed, clustered townhouse development. The town would eventually purchase the balance of the land.
The Townhouse development would be located on approximately 14 acres, with the remaining half of the Northland-owned portion of the property serving as a wooded buffer between both Charles River Street and abutters on Whitman Road, as well as from the adjoining meadow that would become public land.
Under the draft development agreement, when certain benchmarks were met Northland would convey the remaining acreage to the town in exchange for the $2.5 million approved at Town Meeting. This includes approximately 30 acres of open space that would provide public access to the Charles River, walking trails and recreational opportunities.
Two separate and developable three-acre lots along Charles River Street would also eventually be conveyed to the town under terms negotiated in the draft development agreement.
“There is not much to report at present,” Northland president Jack Dawley said via email. “I remain engaged with the trust representing the seller, the town and the state with respect to our vision for the property – the preservation of a substantial area of the property and the implementation of an age-directed development project. All parties remain engaged and committed to this creative and unique use of this special property.”
Assuming a sale occurs, the project would still need to make its way through the state’s so-called Friendly 40B process — an expedited local zoning review — with the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). If approved by DHCD, the project would then proceed to a local project review by the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals.
The project has faced opposition from residents adjacent to the property who have engaged a law firm to support their efforts. That firm was highly critical of the draft development agreement, asserting it had many elements that were detrimental to the town’s interests.
In addition, DHCD has offered conflicting guidance on how many affordable units need to be included. An affordable housing component is required for the project to be eligible for the Friendly 40B process.
After initially signaling that a 5% affordable component (or four units) would be acceptable for approval, DHCD later communicated that a higher percentage of affordable units would be required.
Select Board Chair Marianne Cooley, a staunch supporter of the project, said, “The town remains at this point cautiously optimistic that all the pieces are going to come in line. That’s where we are.”
Cooley emphasized that all avenues of communication remain open. “The developer and the sellers and their representatives all continue to talk,” she said. “DHCD has also talked to the town.”