Pictured is a rendering for the $100 million development planned for transforming the Hilltop Steak House site.
By BRIDGET TURCOTTE
SAUGUS — The Planning Board signed off on the $100 million AvalonBay Communities development planned for the former Hilltop Steak House site.
The panel unanimously approved the conceptual Master Plan Thursday night, which included revisions made by AvalonBay developers in response to town bylaws and feedback from neighbors. Details of the project still need to be determined. AvalonBay representatives will attend a meeting in two weeks to seek Site Plan approval, which will include everything from materials and color schemes to the property’s infrastructure.
Plans include turning 13.9 acres of the site into a mixed-use development with residential and retail space. The frontage will house one story of retail space, and three four-story residential buildings will be in the rear. The residential space will have a total of 280 studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments, and a one-story clubhouse with an outdoor swimming pool.
Abutters expressed concerns that the existing swale and wetlands area would be impacted by the new construction. Water runoff from the site ends up in a swale behind homes on Laurine Road, which connects to Crystal Brook. Stephen Martorano, senior project manager at Bohler Engineering, said the swale was 3-feet deep at one point but sediment and leaves have reduced it to about a foot in depth.
The discussion has caused tempers to rise at several meetings.
Gilway Street resident Patricia Battaglia believes their plan to add one acre of landscaping throughout the site to absorb some of the runoff will fail. She said she believes the pavement is absorbing more water. She has also argued that dredging the swale will result in water moving to Crystal Brook more quickly.
Landscaping will be added at the back of the property to absorb some of the excess water and create a privacy and sound buffer.
Michael Roberts, AvalonBay senior vice president of development, maintained that plans to construct the residential and retail community include reducing stormwater runoff, not adding to it. The company will dredge the swale to clear it of built-up sediment and leaves and is working with the Department of Public Works to determine who will be responsible for maintaining it. The water will be treated to remove sediment accumulation.
The team made changes to the architecture to better fit with the guidelines and requirements outlined by the town for mixed-use developments.
Each unit will have a bay window and most will have a balcony to give the community more of an inclusive feel. The lobby of each apartment building will be open and face a common area to promote use of the retail space. The amount of glass used in the retail buildings was upped from 16 percent to more than 20. Stores will range in size from 1,500 to 2,000 square feet. A wall and fence will be added to the back and side edges of the site for privacy. The color scheme has yet to be determined.
The board also accepted the traffic plan, which includes a deceleration lane, and the environmental study, which outlines plans to clean up the wetlands and add invasive plants.
Gilway Street resident Peter Paskaley wasn’t sold on the developer’s traffic analysis.
“I foresee it being an additional burden on an already taxed roadway,” he said.
AvalonBay will return in two weeks to seek Site Plan approval. Roberts said the company anticipates that once permitting is in place, construction will be completed in 20 to 24 months.
Bridget Turcotte can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.