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Plymouth [MA] Industrial Park


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A vision for future covers 1,000 acres

By Robert Knox, Globe Correspondent, 12/18/2003

If you drive to the end of Interstate 495 and continue on Route 25 to a highway rest area, you'll be at the edge of 1,000 undeveloped acres that Plymouth planners say are crucial to the town's future. It doesn't look like much now, but officials have dubbed the land New England Park, and they envision it as a hub of commercial and industrial growth.

Denis Hanks, director of Plymouth Regional Economic Development Foundation, a public-private partnership trying to attract businesses to town, wants to create a huge industrial park. But he and his group face significant obstacles. They have to secure title to the 2,007 parcels within the 1,000 acres. Nearly a century ago, the land was divided into tiny slices. The properties have reverted to the town for unpaid taxes, but determining their exact status could be a title search nightmare.

And the problems aren't just legal. Making the property suitable for development would require a new Route 25 interchange and other road improvements estimated to cost about $19 million. Necessary sewer and water improvements are projected to cost $7 million.

Environmentalists who object to the widespread development supported by Hanks believe the practical obstacles will keep the area wild, at least for the foreseeable future. "I don't think the threat is great" that the area will be developed, said Tom Maloney, director of the Nature Conservancy's Plymouth Program.

Maloney said New England Park includes rare pine barrens habitat, rare and endangered species, and some rare coastal pond plains habitat. But, he said last week, "the conservancy will not obstruct" Hanks' plans. "We want to work with the town if there is a place for us."

Hanks presented his plan to Plymouth selectmen earlier this month. Citing a detailed 2001 report on the town's economic development prospects by RKG Associates, Hanks said the 1,000-acre parcel along Route 25 was identified as a potential successor to the Plymouth Industrial Park in North Plymouth. The report synthesized past ideas for the site, and offered a development scenario that included a hotel, office park, residential development, and open space. It estimated local tax revenue at about $3 million annually.

Hanks said he is not interested in residential development. His idea is to develop 500 to 700 acres for light industrial use (such as office buildings), and to leave the rest as open space. At full build-out, he estimated, the park would generate $6 million in tax revenue annually.

The North Plymouth industrial park is "down to the last 12-15 acres," Hanks said. "We just can't accommodate the people who are looking to come into town. Increasing the number of commercial and industrial taxpayers we have doesn't burden the infrastructure similar to residential." About 30 companies in the last few years have looked for larger development sites in town than Plymouth can offer, he said.

Adding impetus to the plan, Hanks said, the town of Bourne is planning a smaller industrial park just 2,000 feet to the south on Bournedale Road. The second project would strengthen the case for federal funding for a new interchange off Route 25 that would serve both areas, and would allow the towns to share road improvement costs, Hanks said.

Hanks has a 1916 planning map for the property that proclaims it has "the best hunting and fishing in New England." The land was subdivided in the early 20th century, offering a vision of streets and small-lot houses that were never realized.

Under the best scenario, the industrial park is about four to five years down the line, Hanks said. The first step is clearing the property titles. He told selectmen that two graduate students from Bridgewater State College's Institute for Regional Development would perform title searches as an academic research project, possibly starting in the spring. They would work out of Hanks's Town Hall office.

Selectmen last week also mentioned a letter from Lynn Harper, a habitat protection specialist for the state's Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, who said there are 54 rare and endangered species within the property's borders. Development would trigger a review through the Massachusetts Environmental Protection Act.

Lee Hartmann, director of planning and development for the town, said it's too early to tell whether environmental concerns would affect the project. The town needs more information before making "assumptions about what needs to be protected and what needs to be developed," Hartmann said.

"The number of locations we have in Plymouth [for industrial parks] is very limited," he said. "We have to look at all the remaining options before we just say no."

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