“Old landfill's new life beginning to emerge”
By Thomas Grillo, Globe Correspondent
READING – A former dumping ground is about to become a local stomping ground.
Over the years, several plans to transform a 33-acre former landfill into an office park, a hotel, and housing were scrapped. Today, construction is underway for a home improvement store, a furniture retailer, and a restaurant instead.
“Everyone is excited about this development,” said Town Manager Peter Hechenbleikner. “People keep asking me when the stores will open.”
Construction is expected to be completed this summer. The first phase of the Crossing at Walkers Brook will include a 140,000-square-foot Home Depot, a 260,000-square-foot Jordan's Furniture with a 450-seat IMAX theatre, and a 217-seat Chili's restaurant.
Phase two – a 70,000-square-foot commercial complex that will accommodate several more as-yet-unnamed retailers and eateries – is supposed to be finished by year's end.
While building on a former dump, poses logistical problems, landfills in Greater Boston have been transformed from moonlike landscapes into golf courses and at least one office park. Environmentalists favor development at former dumps, arguing it's better than destroying forests or fields.
For the Reading project, Dickinson Development Corp. of Quincy placed 1,400 concrete pilings 70 feet long into the ground for the foundation. Eighty-foot steel columns were then attached and welded together to support the stores for the two-story structure.
“This project had significant geotechnical and environmental hurdles”, said Ed Shaw, Dickinson's vice-president. “First, we capped the landfill with a process that's like applying a rubber roof on the area to be used for parking, then we sprayed a membrane that adheres to the floor slabs, and constructed an elaborate methane gas collection system.” Methane is a colorless, odorless gas from decomposing organic carbons. High concentrations can be flammable or lead to asphyxiation.
Reading used the site as a landfill until the 1970s. In the 1980s, the state ordered the town to cap the site to prevent contamination from running off. The town then began looking for a way to capitalize on the location, which is near exit 41 on Route 128.
The reuse of landfills is becoming more common. Last year, the first phase of Granite Links, a 27-hole golf course, was built over a former landfill in Milton. Today, the remaining 18 holes and a 43,000-square-foot clubhouse on the Quincy side to of the 450-acre site are under construction.
Walter Hannon III, vice president of Quarry Hill Associates, the developer, said the location just off Furnace Brook Parkway is a great one. Development atop former dumps is limited, though. “Sure, the land is valuable, but you can't build much on top of methane gas,” he said. “There are lots of environmental restrictions, and depending on what kind of waste was dumped, [that] determines what you can build.”
The majority of landfill conversions have been for green space or commercial developments.
Quarry Hills leases the golf course from the City of Quincy and the Town of Milton.
In the late 1990s, Framingham's landfill became the 9/90 Corporate Center, a 1.5-million-square-foot office park, and an old dump in West Roxbury was turned into 100 acres of parks, playgrounds, ball fields, and waling trails called Millenium Park.
The $80 million Walkers Brook project was not Reading's first choice for the site. In the late 1980s, Homart Development Co. was selected to erect an 850,000-square-foot office building and a 225-room hotel. A slumping economy killed that plan. Later, Corporex Development Services, Inc. offered a plan that included a country club and golf course; it fell through, too. More recently, Lincoln Properties presented plans for an office park with a hotel and housing. Voters rejected that plan, fearing that housing would strain the school system.
Eliot Tatelman, president of Jordan's Furniture, said he's been looking for a North Shore location for 10 years. “Can you believe we finally found the perfect location, and it's on a dump?” he said with a laugh. “But really, the location is absolutely dynamite.”