One of New England’s most prolific large-scale retail developers has ended his efforts to build a massive, 2 million s.f. project in Hudson, New Hampshire. W/S Development, owned by Steve Weiner of Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, has bogeyed his plans to convert a 375 acre golf course into an “open-air shopping center. As proposed, this so-called “lifestyle center,” would simulate a town square, with wide, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, shops, a public ice-skating rink and an entertainment district featuring a 16-screen movie theater. A hotel and conference center were also part of the plan, as well as office buildings, a river walk trail, parks, an outdoor amphitheater and 600 units of age-restricted housing for residents 55 and older. Instead, W/S has partnered with another Massachusetts developer to construct a “lifestyle center” across the Merrimack River in Nashua, New Hampshire. Two days ago, W/S pulled its application with the town of Hudson, officially killing off “RiverPlace”, which would have been the largest retail center in New England. W/S instead has joined forces with another big box developer, New England Development, and its affiliate, Packard Development, to propose “Nashua Landing,” a lifestyle center — just “smaller.” The Nashua project is proposed to be 450,000 s.f., or almost 10 football fields of store space. The site is a former industrial site. The Hudson Planning Board had asked the developer to make a number of significant changes to his roadway layout to improve traffic, and to avoid damage to the wetlands. The Planning Board feared that the overwhelming traffic to the site would encourage drivers to cut through smaller, residential streets to get to the mall. The site also has 30 acres of wetlands, and the RiverPlace disturbed almost one-third of those water resources. The Planning Board was scheduled to meet with W/S on May 23rd to continue planning discussions. W/S had to obtain a wetlands exemption for its road design from the zoning board of adjustment, which could have led to a court appeal by local residents. This project began life in January, 2007, when W/S filed for the first phase of its development. But the Planning Board referred the developer back to the Zoning Board because of the wetlands issues. A citizen’s group called Hudson Grassroots Central was formed to fight RiverPlace, and the group celebrated the end of the project this week.
W/S told the town that the project would generate $5.6 million per year in net revenue for the town, and more than $12 million in one-time fees. These are gross figures, not net. New Hampshire has no sales tax, so that financial benefit isn’t a factor. Local residents who organized against the plan, charged that Hudson is being over-developed, and that the traffic impacts of RiverPlace were too much for the small town to accommodate. This same developer pulled a similar project out of Reading, Massachusetts in the face of widespread citizen opposition. This same developer lost a battle to build a Wal-Mart on a farm in Billerica, Massachusetts, and was taken to court by residents in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, over his Wal-Mart proposal. W/S projects often end up mired in controversy, with local residents battling the plans. “Lifestyle” centers are called that, because they enhance the lifestyle of the developer. For other escapades of W/S Development in New England, search Newsflash by “W/S.”