By Bella Travaglini
August 10, 2008
A Hollywood-type movie studio in Stoneham?
It’s possible, says Gary DeCicco, a Nahant-based developer who says he wants to buy the dormant Boston Regional Medical Center in Stoneham and convert the 40-plus-acre property into a studio and soundstage for movie productions.
DeCicco, owner of V.L. Realty in Nahant, is working with Laverty Lohnes Properties of Cambridge in a bid to buy the property from its current owner, the Gutierrez Co., and says he already knows a movie production company that would like to sign a lease and move in.
He said last week he could not divulge the name of the California-based movie studio because of a confidentiality agreement. He said the company has recently produced motion pictures in the Boston area and is not Plymouth Rock Studios, which recently announced plans to build a massive production facility at the site of a private golf club in Plymouth.
DeCicco’s plan comes as town officials expressed frustration with the state over the stalled Langwood Commons residential project that was slated for development on the site.
The Gutierrez Co. and Simpson Housing had won local approval to build Langwood Commons, consisting of 405 residential units and 225,000 square feet of office space. Development has been delayed due to opposition from neighbors, parks advocates, and state environmental officials, who last month said that a full environmental review would be required for such a development at the site, which is surrounded by the Middlesex Fells Reservation.
Driving that review was a traffic study and roadway redesign initiated by the Department of Conservation and Recreation, which oversees the Fells and other nearby parkways. Following opposition to the roadway redesign plans from the Massachusetts Historical Commission, the Gutierrez Co. withdrew traffic changes to avoid further environmental review.
Last week, Stoneham Town Administrator David Ragucci said the town is considering a lawsuit against the state, saying “it has interfered with the town’s sovereign rights to determine its own future.”
“Here is a project that can generate much-needed revenues, but the state has taken six years to go through the approval process and still [is] not allowing this project to go forward,” he said in an e-mail. “This has cost the town significant revenue.”
In a letter dated July 14 to Ian Bowles, secretary of the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Selectman Paul Rotondi urged the state to reconsider the decision mandating further Massachusetts Environmental Protection Act review of the housing project.
“The Town of Stoneham has learned this past week that once again a long-awaited project known as the Langwood Commons may be delayed or could be in jeopardy of not being built as a result of state agency action unrelated to the project,” Rotondi said in the letter. “As you may be aware, the Town of Stoneham is struggling like many other communities, and [we] have been looking for ways to pull ourselves out of our financial problems without looking to the state for funding that is difficult to find.”
The state declined to comment on Ragucci’s assertion about sovereign rights, and maintained that the project needs the MEPA review.
“The secretary is sensitive to the concerns expressed by Selectman Rotondi on behalf of the town of Stoneham, but the secretary’s duty is to make sure that all environmental impacts of developments like this one are avoided, minimized, or mitigated to the greatest extent possible,” said Robert Keough, spokesman for Bowles.
In light of the delay in the project, DeCicco said he was encouraged by recent talks he had with Ragucci regarding his plan to buy the property, which abuts Spot Pond on Woodland Road.
DeCicco said the Gutierrez Co. and Simpson Housing both have become “frustrated” with the process of obtaining state approval for their project. “We do know that they [the Gutierrez Co.] would like to sell,” he said.
However, he said he has yet to discuss his proposed purchase with the property owner.
In his initial assessment of the feasibility of building a movie studio, soundstage, and some residential housing for studio employees, DeCicco said he believes traffic flow will be far less of an issue than if the property were turned into a large residential development.
“The movie studio will be tremendous for the community,” DeCicco said.
Still, DeCicco and his partner have yet to have a discussion with state officials about buying the parcel and constructing a movie studio on the site, he said, adding that he must also determine whether such a project would be subject to a MEPA review as well.
Arthur Gutierrez Jr., president of the Gutierrez Co., did not return a call seeking comment for this story.
Bella Travaglini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.