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Three Towers on the Horizon

Midtown Springfield project begins to take shape.

Paul Gagnon was looking at one development coming to Central Springfield and considering three others in the works. "Sleepy Springfield is about to become vibrant Springfield, one way or another," he told the assembled crowd on Nov. 28.

Gagnon chairs the special task force studying the proposed "Midtown Springfield" project, a mixed use project planned to go in the roughly 8-acre parcel bounded by I-95, Commerce Street and Brandon Avenue.

The developer, KSI, proposes leveling the existing commercial areas, and rebuilding a small-scale town center with roughly 800 apartment or condo units, a 100,000 square foot hotel, 100,000 square feet of retail space, 40,000 square feet of office space and a 5,000-7,000 square foot community space.

These numbers may even grow larger. The area which is now Saigon City, on the corner of Brandon and Commerce, had not been included in the development. However, the developer is close to a deal to acquire that area, and would expand the size of the project proportionately on that site, said Greg Riegle, attorney for the developer.

Many of the residential units will go in three towers reaching 28, 20 and 18 stories. Others will be scattered throughout the development over the ground floor retail stores. "We tried to vary the heights so this looks like a real place," Riegle said.

A 2,200 space parking garage will run along the I-95 edge of the project. The top of the garage, however, won't see any cars, along one side will run the planned office space. The bulk of the garage will feature a "green roof" an urban-style park with open plaza and green spaces for residents and office workers to recreate.

The developer is also studying ways to implement a stormwater management program. Under County law, they would not be required to do this. The law requires developers to lessen new runoff, but since the area is almost entirely paved the project won't increase it.

TASK FORCE members' primary concern was the traffic the project would generate. Riegle's team presented an animated version of a traffic model, showing little digital cars moving along on the local roads and queuing up to use turn lanes. The software gives engineers a close-up look at the projected impacts of new developments.

However, it did not show anyone cutting across three lanes to make a last-second turn, leaving too much distance between cars or talking on their cell phone and delaying the wait for a turn. "That struck me as pretty optimistic," said Doug Boulter, a task force member.

"People here just do not drive with common sense," Gagnon said.

THE TASK FORCE noted three other major projects coming to the immediate vicinity — the mattress store set to become a banquet hall, the new Marroitt hotel and the potential redevelopment and growth of Springfield Mall.

The traffic study assumed that the project would be complete in 2009. Boulter suggested that the developer do an in-depth traffic study of the area to help establish the baseline traffic level. Then as the developments go in, their impacts can be better gauged. "If we don't have some benchmarks now, we're always going to wondering how much worse, if its any worse," he said.

Riegle acknowledged that the development will increase the congestion levels, particularly along Commerce Street, but the percentage increase is fairly low, he said. "We think we've got it in amounts that can be mitigated."

The development has multiple ways in and out, and therefore the traffic impacts will not be very bad because they will be diffused, Riegle said. "As you get outside the site it diminishes fairly quickly.

The developer also plans to implement Transportation Demand Management measures, an increasingly popular strategy designed to reduce the number of people who use single-occupancy vehicles. Riegle believes the measures can reduce the number of trips up to 20 percent or more from what would be expected from a development of this size.

Other task force members asked Riegle to be sure to include adequate pedestrian facilities and to consider putting bike lanes in the project.

The proposal will appear before the committee once more, likely in early January, before going on to the Lee District Land Use Committee. It will likely go to the Planning Commission for a public hearing sometime in early 2006.