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New Rezoning Plan Could Spur More Walkable Development On 100 Acres Around Burlington Mall


The Boston suburb of Burlington has a growing life sciences sector and a well-performing shopping mall, but its Mall Road corridor has dozens of acres of underutilized parking lots. Officials are now looking to rezone those lots to create a more walkable district. 

The site map for Burlington's Route 128 District

The town held a community forum Wednesday to kick off the process of a new rezoning initiative around Mall Road.

The meeting was held by the town's consultant on the initiative, Brovitz Community Planning & Design. The firm's founder and principal, Ted Brovitz, laid out plans for the 10-month process in redesigning the district's zoning, including 100 acres of potentially developable land, which mostly consists of underutilized parking lots.

“We are not trying to create Cambridge here,” Brovitz said. “We are really trying to create a sort of business park so that the scale will be designed to fit that goal.”

Brovitz laid out the timeline for the process, including a first draft of the zoning plan sometime in June and a goal to finalize the plan prior to the town's annual meeting in September.

“We’re really in discovery mode,” Brovitz said at the meeting. “We are working to understand the town’s plans and policies. The next six weeks between February and March, we are really just trying to find out as much information about the district and what future ideas are.”

In August, the town completed its site readiness concept plan for the district that identified the 100 acres — which stretch along 1.7 miles and include the Burlington Mall, Burlington Woods and the Northeastern University Innovation Campus — that could be rezoned for more mixed-use development and potentially residential.

Burlington Mall, one of the better-performing malls in Simon Property Group's portfolio, has seen major renovations in recent years to its former Sears space, including four new restaurants and three new retail tenants.

In 2021, MassDevelopment awarded the town an $85K Site Readiness grant that would enable it to consider potential commercial areas on both sides of Route 128 and I-95 that could be home to new development opportunities.

The grant was used to prepare a master plan that will provide a vision and strategy for redeveloping the town's Mall Road corridor to become a walkable mixed-use district. With Brovitz in charge, the town is moving forward with the second phase in the rezoning plan.

Part of the concept plan was to weave in infrastructure improvements and sustainable building practices to reach the city's other goals.

On Wednesday, Burlington was one of 15 communities that received a $500K Complete Streets grant that will fund the construction of public sidewalks along Blanchard Road, directly across the highway from the mall. The project needs to be completed by the end of 2024, according to a press release about the grant.

“It’s also important at the public realm that the streets also contribute and enhance the surrounding developments," Brovitz said. "There’s a lot of interest in complete street and making improvements to the Mall Road, but also being able to program in the right way different activation techniques.”

The concept plan also took into account the town's growing life sciences cluster and made it a point to use existing assets to grow the area's presence of labs, advanced manufacturing and healthcare.

"The demand for lab space and the competition to attract life science companies has become increasingly strong in the metro-Boston markets, including Burlington," the plan says.

The plan includes Burlington Woods, which is home to numerous life sciences tenants, and the town's medical district, which includes Lahey Medical Center.

In November, MetLife Investment Management bought a Burlington lab building from The Gutierrez Co. and GEM Realty Capital for $103M. The building at 4 Burlington Woods is fully leased to three life sciences tenants.

Burlington has seen interest from other life sciences developers and tenants. Blue Sky Center has landed major leases signed by companies like Vericel Corp., with its 125K SF newly constructed headquarters, and the Broad Institute, with its 150K SF research and development space in the same building.

"This is an important transaction and is further proof that the Burlington life science cluster continues to evolve and expand," Nordblom Senior Vice President Todd Fremont-Smith, whose firm developed the space leased by the two companies, said of the Vericel deal in a statement last year. 

CORRECTION, FEB. 17, 10:15 A.M. ET: A previous version of this story used the old name for the life sciences and office campus that was rebranded last year to Blue Sky Center. The story has been updated.