Mall proposed for Seabrook, Mass.

Feb. 17, 2009
Mall would hold up to 24 storefronts

Feb. 6--SEABROOK -- Up to two dozen new retail stores are proposed for a new shopping center near the junction of Routes 1 and 107.

Ohio shopping center builder Developers Diversified Realty is trying to get its nearly 50-acre shopping center approved by local officials. The U-shaped mall is proposed for a the tract of land off Route 1 behind Provident Bank that was once the site of the Venture/Bailey Corp. The retail enclave would also include four, 1.5 acre satellite lots in front of the unenclosed mall.

When first proposed in August 2006, diagrams indicated the center would have two large anchor stores, a Target and Best Buy, and a building shape that showed room for at least 10 other stores. However, DDR representatives told Planning Board members Tuesday night, since they would build to suit the needs of their prospective tenants, there could be as many as 24 storefronts in the building.

No matter how many stores rent space in the mall, DDR promised there would not be more than 450,000 square feet of retail space. In comparison, Newburyport's Port Plaza is less than half that size.

This is the second time around for DDR's large shopping center proposal. The Ohio developer had to withdraw its original plans because it could not properly address the traffic a shopping center of this size would draw so close to the Massachusetts border.

Stymied to come up with enough road improvements to effectively deal with the 1,700 to 2,200 cars per peak shopping hour the 450,000-square-foot mall would bring to the Route 1/107 intersection and surrounding roadways, DDR chose to reduce its proposal's scope significantly.

In March, it got approval to build only the 136,000-square-foot Target Department Store, but DDR promised it would be back for approval on the remainder of the project when it felt it had all the traffic issues worked out.

The Planning Board received DDR's promised second phase of the development in December and met Tuesday to review the new site plan at a meeting packed to overflowing with abutters.

Discussed at the public hearing was everything about the shopping center except its inherent traffic problems, the acknowledged but silent 800-pound gorilla hovering over the hearing last night.

Traffic problems surrounding this and other recent and proposed retail developments along what has become Seabrook's Route 1 shopping mecca is the single most talked-about concern residents have when they discuss the rapid growth pattern Seabrook has experienced in the last decade.

The Planning Board is reserving a special meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 17, to discuss traffic concerns related to this project. At that meeting, the board's traffic consultant will be on hand to evaluate DDR's traffic study and mitigation plan, and abutters can then express their traffic concerns.

On Tuesday, however, the board reviewed other issues that could plague the shopping center in light of its size. Storm water runoff from the huge paved surface is a concern of Town Planner Tom Morgan. Morgan said the town had never reviewed a project this large, and he's worried storm water runoff could lead to flooding in areas surrounding the mall.

DDR's engineer, Steve Lehmann, and attorney, Malcolm McNeill, promised to review a report on the possible runoff problems and respond at an upcoming meeting.

Still a worry, as it was when the project was first proposed, is the opinion of Seabrook fire Chief Jeff Brown, who feels his department would have problems fighting a fire in the massive multiunit building. Brown has said repeatedly that Seabrook needs a ladder truck to fight a fire for something this large because its present Quint engine with ladder doesn't have the "reach" to access the roof of the building, which reaches more than 40 feet in certain areas.

McNeill said Seabrook's large existing retail stores, like Kohl's and Home Depot, are as high as this mall would be. However, Brown insists the larger size of DDR's building, which is about triple the size of Kohl's, presents greater challenges to firefighters.

From a economic development point of view, McNeill said the shopping center could generate as many as 1,100 permanent jobs, although no mention was made of the number of full- and part-time positions that would include. DDR also estimated 500 construction jobs would be created during construction, something a labor union representative at the meeting challenged.

According to McNeill, the project would also provide Seabrook with more than $1 million in annual property tax revenue.

Copyright (c) 2009, The Daily News of Newburyport, Mass. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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