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NEW BEDFORD, MA. (Published June 8, 2012) — A Taco Bell and 1 ½ -story retail space has been proposed for several sites at Riverside Landing, a prime development spot near the Acushnet River that City officials have been trying to remake for more than half a decade.

The Dickinson Development Corp plans for the old Fairhaven Mills block come after two years without construction in the plaza, where a popular Market Basket opened in 2010 after the controversial demolition of an historic mill.

The proposal, which goes before the Planning Board Wednesday, shows an 11,723sf retail building on Coggeshall Street with space for six offices, including a Verizon Wireless. A smaller, 2,600sf Taco Bell franchise situated slightly to the north would include a drive-through.

The plans, which would add buildings to a strip that already includes a McDonald’s, a privately owned mill structure, and a 7-Eleven, are in line with what Dickinson put forward in 2007 when the City agreed to sell its portion of the 14-acre property to the Quincy firm, said acting City Planner Jill MacLean.

“This is more or less what they proposed from the beginning.” MacLean said. She said the design also reserves green space for the display of public art, likely a sculpture.

“That corner will be a very attractive gateway into what is a very, very highly visible development in the City.” New Bedford Economic Council Director Matthew Morrissey said, adding that the new businesses should add at least 60 jobs to the area.

“Proper Development is fine, but is another fast-food place in New Bedford exactly the kind of development we’re looking for?” asked preservationist Peggy Medeiros, a longtime opponent of the project. “Whatever happened to the boathouse and the park they were supposed to be building?”

The 2007 proposal reserved space for public access to the nearby Acushnet River, including a boathouse and waterfront park.

The Taco Bell and 1 ½ - story retail structure are slated to be built on separate sites from where the boathouse and planned river walk would eventually be constructed.

The City is working to get a permit from the Environmental Protection Agency for a dock on that portion of the property, Morrisey said. It will likely take at least another six months before development there get under way, he said.

Last fall, the City rejected a proposal that gave the Taco Bell a much more prominent position on Coggeshall Street, said former Mayor Scott W. Lang, adding that he had hoped to see multi-story buildings on the spot.

“My feeling is that’s a very unique piece of property and it has tremendous potential,” Lang said. “It’s not as if this is the maximum use of that potential by any means, but the recession has been pretty deep-seated and I understand that.”

“You’re not going to get the Louvre on the corner of Coggeshall Street across from the 7-Eleven,” he added.

As proposed, the buildings, which come with 83 parking spaces, would be built primarily in cream colored Hardie plank siding with brick work.

The City has asked Dickinson to include more brick in the building design to make the property more evocative of the surrounding mill buildings, MacLean said. A two-story tower on one end of the retail building also provides a nod to the areas history.

If the plans are approved, there may still be space left for further development on the Dickinson lot. The buildings bring Dickinson up to 75% of the space for which the company initially received a permit.

Verizon and Taco Bell are the only tenants specified in the plans, which were submitted last month.

“We have to remember that we decided to go with commercial retail space, so that’s kind of natural that we’re going to have more office space and a Taco Bell,” said At-Large City Councilor Debra Coelho. “What I’m really…hoping for is that boathouse and that river walk that’s supposed to tie in.”

The eastern waterfront portion of Riverside Landing is owned by Retail Management and Development, Inc. (Market Basket’s real estate arm), according to Morrissey.

Mayor Jon Mitchell and developers Mark Dickinson and Mark White could not be reached for comment.

Founded in 1980, Dickinson Development is a full-service commercial real estate development and project management consulting firm based in Quincy, Mass. For more on Dickinson Development, call 617-770-1955 or email Mark Dickinson at mark@dickinsondev.com.

-- By Natalie Sherman (nsherman@s-t.com)

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