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Winning Farm permit granted

By GORDON VINCENT news@woburnonline.com

Woburn - More than a year after it was initially submitted, a proposal for 147 townhouse units at Winning Farm received a special permit from the City Council last night. The vote was 8-0 (Ward 4 Alderman William Booker missed the meeting), with little discussion. The council added one more condition - a landscaping screen near a retention pond at the property line closest to Canterbury Road - to 12 recommended last week by its Special Permits Committee. "This has been a long process for the West Side. We're going to get 30 acres of open space, 70 percent of which is dry," said Ward 7 Alderman Stephen Braese. "Hopefully, when this is all done, the issue of the landfill mystery will be solved once and for all. "It's a win-win for everybody involved," added Braese, whose district includes most of West Woburn.


The project still requires wetlands approval, both from the state Department of Environmental Protection and the city's Conservation Commission, before shovels go into the ground. Last night's vote by the City Council, however, represented a major step forward for Winning Home, Inc., the trust that has a pending purchase-and-sale agreement with Burlington developers Robert Murray and Gary Ruping, who are proposing the "Village at Winning Farm" townhouse development. "We thank the Woburn City Council for their approval and thoughtful deliberation on this issue," said Albert Curran Jr., of Winning Home.


"The development partners of Winning Home are anxious to finally begin the process of cleaning the property and creating housing and park space for the benefit of Woburn. "The Board of Directors of Winning Home are also excited to receive the proceeds from this sale to secure Winning Home's future and the future of our area's children in need," added Curran. In the pipeline since 1995, the Village at Winning Farm development has been slowed by concerns about a landfill at the 60-acre portion of Winning Farm that lies in Woburn. Some believed debris dumped in a landfill that was initially supposed to be a ball field at the site was tainted by toxic waste from the MBTA's red line extension to Alewife station.


Winning Home officials and the developer maintained the fill consisted of "construction debris" that was allowed at the time, but plans were delayed long enough for the state DEP to complete a thorough review and issue a lengthy series of conditions before it issued a final draft of a remediation proposal this summer. During the delay, Winning Home officials contended they were hampered in fulfilling the will of William H. Winning, who deemed the property should be used to benefit the needy children in the area. In 1995, the trust decided the best way to accomplish that task was to sell the land and donate the investment proceeds to local charities like the Woburn Boys & Girls Club and the Woburn Council of Social Concern. After the city passed on its first right of refusal to purchase the 60-acre site, zoning regulations were changed to allow townhouse developments on larger parcels in single-family zones, with 50 percent of the land being deeded to the city for passive recreation.


Murray and Ruping eventually filed their petition for the Village at Winning Farm last September, but the proposal was withdrawn three months later due in part to concerns about the landfill and the end of the term for the council, which this past January added two new members who would not have been able to vote on the special permit. After the DEP issued its final draft, essentially the same 147-unit project with walking trails and 30-acres of open space for resident's use was re-submitted on Sept. 24. Winning Farm consists of about 114 acres straddling three communities. The town of Winchester bought its 40-plus acre portion of the farm and has a purchase and sale on a 12.5-acre section to Salter Health Care, which is planning to build an assisted living facility there. The rest would remain as conservation space.


Murray purchased the nine acres that lie in Lexington, and is reportedly planning to build single-family homes. The City Council's vote also includes a mitigation package outlining considerable work for the developer including extensive drainage improvements on and off site.