‘Rock pile’ project on hold

Published: Saturday, May 2, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — After months of rumors about an apparent lack of construction at the “rock pile” site, developers have confirmed that the project is on hold because of the difficult economic climate.

Representatives from Developers Diversified Realty, which is behind the controversial Guilford Commons shopping center at 1919 Boston Post Road, said in a statement this week that “for now” the company has “suspended further construction.”

In the statement, Paul Freddo, senior executive vice president of leasing and development, called the suspension a “temporary delay.”

“Current economic conditions, including shrinking consumer confidence and poor retail sales, have caused retailers who prefer the lifestyle center format to slow their expansion plans on a national level,” Freddo said.

“When economic conditions improve and lifestyle center tenants are again actively seeking quality lifestyle development locations, we will resume construction on Guilford Commons.”

The company did not specify a timeline for resuming work.

As of Friday, stock in Developers Diversified Realty was trading at about $4 a share, down from about $44 on May 1, 2008.

Town Planner George Kral said that planning officials have visited the site to make sure areas that were disturbed during the initial construction phase will not erode during the halt. Workers built a retaining wall and moved large piles of dirt during the early work, which began summer 2008.

“They have a lot of exposed dirt and they have a big pile of sand there, which is part of their septic system, and the concern is we want to just make sure it’s not going to create any problem,” Kral said.

“All of it I think has been pretty well secured, but those erosion controls are kind of designed to be temporary, not to be there for years and years — of course, no one’s hoping or expecting it to be years and years.”

Zoning and Wetlands Enforcement Officer Regina Reed said there was one incident on the site during a rainstorm in December, during which some of the hill eroded, but the contractors solved the problem.

According to the town’s conditions of approval for the project, a monitor must visit the site every week and after each significant rainfall, including during breaks in construction, to check for erosion.

Charles Magby, a resident who opposed the project as an official intervener during the approval process, said that he was glad to hear the work has stopped, but added he is worried about erosion into nearby Spinning Mill Brook.

During hearings before the town’s Inland Wetlands Commission, Magby and Gaboury Benoit, a professor of environmental chemistry and environmental engineering at Yale University, argued that the development would harm the brook and local wetlands.

The commission rejected the proposal in April 2007 before approving a revised version in December of the same year. The Planning and Zoning Commission approved the development in January 2008.

“Unfortunately, the town decided to approve that — the town’s going to have to live with it,” Magby said. “I tried desperately to tell them this kind of thing could happen. I showed them why it was wrong for them to allow this to be approved, and not just me, but so did a lot of other people.”

The 26-acre, $37 million development near the Exit 57 interchange off Interstate 95 was to have included chain stores such as Talbots and Coldwater Creek, according to a sign in front of the property.

Town officials said the developers will continue work to move a cell tower on the site.

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