Archstone Communities is seeking to build a 640-unit apartment complex on this site in Woburn, now used by Northeastern University as a botanical research center.

A proposal to build a 640-unit apartment complex in Woburn has had residents and city officials in an uproar for over six months.

The controversy may be partially resolved in June, when Woburn officials are expected to decide on a comprehensive permit application that would allow Denver-based Archstone Communities to build one- and two-bedroom apartments on 75 acres of undeveloped land.

Archstone Communities, one of the country’s biggest apartment developers, applied for a comprehensive permit in October to build the apartments on land owned by Northeastern University.

The comprehensive permit application allows Archstone to skip the special permit process and go directly to Woburn’s Zoning Board of Appeals for approval because the developer will make 25 percent of the apartments affordable.

If the ZBA rejects the project, Archstone is likely to appeal to the state, as most developers do when comprehensive permits are rejected.

The application is currently being reviewed and will probably be voted on within the next month, said Woburn Planning Director John Cashell.

Cashell said the site, located on Cambridge Road between Bedford Road and Four Corner, is a beautiful piece of property bordered by over 200 acres of undeveloped land donated to Boston some 70 years ago.

The land, a portion of which is used as a botanical garden by Northeastern students and faculty, is zoned for single-family homes.

Northeastern University, which has owned the site since the 1960s, signed a purchase-and-sale agreement with Archstone that has been rumored at $16 million to $20 million.

‘Completely Outrageous’
Controversy over the future of the land erupted last August when Archstone officials informally met with Woburn leaders, saying they wanted to build 420 market-rate one- and two-bedroom apartments.

When Woburn leaders balked at the number and said they weren’t likely to rezone the property to accommodate that many apartments, Archstone filed a comprehensive permit application to build a bigger complex.

The move angered many residents and city officials, who say Woburn’s roads and services can’t handle that many apartments.

As part of the negotiations, the developer already has pledged to spend more than $3 million to reconstruct roads and rebuild a major water station, Cashell said.

Archstone has built a solid reputation across the country with 194 communities, representing 59,650 units, including 3,807 that are scheduled to be constructed, according to the company Web site.

Despite the improvements Archstone is willing to make, Cashell said it is “completely outrageous” for Woburn to have to bear such a large number of new apartments. He said Woburn leaders are likely to come up with a “number much more palatable” and ask Archstone to work around it.

The Archstone apartments – which would be rented at $1,600 a month and up, according to Cashell – would be located in a heavily-traveled area that gets numerous commuters heading to Burlington offices.

The site is a five-minute drive from Burlington Mall and near other apartment complexes, a car dealership, shops and restaurants.

“The area itself is already overburdened with apartment buildings,” said Val Iula, a Realtor with Century 21 Crowley in Woburn. “It’s a very busy area.”

Iula said there are about 12 apartment complexes near the proposed site, including another located directly across the street.

The complexes clustered along or near Cambridge Road provide more than 1,000 apartments.

Iula said Woburn has plenty of higher-end apartments and needs more market-rate apartments with rents around $900 to $1,200 for one-bedroom units.

“If they’re [Archstone] building market-rate apartments, there is a need for it. If they’re building upscale more toward high-end … the market in this area might have hit the top,” Iula said.

Cashwell said Woburn has about 4,000 apartments, but as in most areas in Eastern Massachusetts, the demand far outweighs supply.

“I really do not think this region of Massachusetts could ever meet the demand,” he said.

Even Iula acknowledges that although the Cambridge Road area is “saturated” with apartment buildings, those units are probably always filled.

“I’m willing to guess that the demand in that general location is high and the supply is nonexistent or very little,” he said.

But Cashell said the community must consider issues like unrestrained growth that will congest the city’s roadways and leave officials scrambling to accommodate thousands of more residents.

“If you offer too much growth, you destroy the quality of life,” Cashell said. “We want to remain a suburb and not allow us to fall further and further into the realm of urbanization.”

Proposed Apartment Complex Causing Commotion in Woburn

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 3 min