Highland Innovation Center office/research space to replace Muzi Ford

The Muzi Ford & Chevrolet dealership located along Route 128 in Needham will likely be replaced by offices and laboratoriespart of the growing biomedical industry.

Here’s everything you need to know about the project, which is currently under review for a special permit.

Needham dealership closes after 90 years

After more than 90 years of activity, the Muzi Ford & Chevrolet dealership and car wash ceased its activities this past November.

The closure took place after Members of Needham Town meeting last year approved a pair of zoning articles updating the permitted uses for the property. The zoning changes encourage commercial office space, small retail businesses and allow for a 240-unit development.

Expensive real estate:Muzi’s property sells for $57.5 million

Shortly after Muzi closed, the 9.4-acre land was bought for $57.5 million by a national real estate company Bulfinchknown biomedical space in development.

Bulfinch operates a number of properties in Needham and beyond. Recently, Bulfinch acquired the former Neiman Marcus store in Natick, which should now be converted into laboratory space.

Innovation Center set to replace Muzi Ford

Bulfinch proposes to replace Muzi with the Innovation Center, a complex consisting of offices, research and life sciences.

There will be two main buildings – one five-story and one three-story – connected by a two-story glass atrium with a rooftop patio, as well as a six-level self-contained parking lot and underground parking lot.

A mix of office, research, life sciences and retail/restaurant is planned for the site of the former Muzi Ford at 557 Highland Avenue in Needham.

The developer has no tenants in mind yet, but estimates that around half of the building will be dedicated to life science labs.

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These labs will likely be Biosafety Level 1 or 2, meaning researchers could handle hazardous medical materials such as human blood, salmonella or E. coli, which pose minimal or moderate risk to the public.

There is potential for a small Tier 3 lab depending on finalized tenants, which would process more infectious material such as influenza or COVID-19. Level 4 labs, for handling more deadly viruses like Ebola, are extremely rare and not intended for this location.

The Highland Innovation Center could also include a brewery with outdoor seating.

Brewery potential on Highland Avenue in Needham?

The project will also include 10,000 square feet of retail space located at the corner of Gould Street and Highland Avenue, as well as a restaurant with a terrace.

This space can include a full-service cafe or restaurant, as well as a small business like a dry cleaner or convenience store.

One option the developer is exploring is the potential for a brewery location, like Trillium Brewing or Mighty Squirrel. The city should amend the zoning bylaw to allow this use.

Reconciling work and leisure

Like many modern offices, Bulfinch hopes to attract tenants with several amenities at the Innovation Center.

A half-mile walking path with fitness stations will loop around the property, passing a small pond with a bridge. This course will be open to the general public.

Site plans for the Highland Avenue Innovation Center, the former site of Muzi Ford, include amenities such as a walking path, pickleball courts and green spaces.

Along Gould Street there could be pickleball or volleyball courts, green space with the potential for an ice rink in the winter, or a community garden.

For tenants of the building, there will be bicycle storage, an indoor fitness center, and a free shuttle to and from the nearest MBTA station.

Sustainability goals in mind

The promoters aim to make the project environmentally sustainable.

The project uses Mass Save programs to maximize energy efficiency and minimize carbon emissions using solar panels, a hybrid electric and gas heating system, electric vehicle charging stations, low flow facets and recycled water for irrigation and waste flushing.

Bulfinch wants to discourage the use of one-car commuters by offering a free shuttle service to public transport, facilitating and encouraging carpooling, improving the area’s cycling facilities and providing on-site bicycle parking. .

For this reason, the company is applying for a special permit to reduce the required number of on-site parking spaces from 1,689 to 1,408.

Pavement improvements along Gould Street at the 557 Highland Avenue site include new signals and bike lanes.

Traffic mitigation

When the city rezoned the Muzi property, it conducted a traffic study and recommended several improvements.

Bulfinch plans to implement these suggestions:

  • a new traffic light and crosswalks at the intersection of Gould Street and the Wingate Driveway/Site entrance with improved signage at the intersection of Gould Street and Highland Avenue
  • additional vehicle turning lanes and dedicated bike lanes at the intersection of Gould Street, Highland Avenue and Hunting Road
  • Gould Street between Highland Avenue and the north of the project site will be widened to include dedicated project site turn lanes on the north side, and two dedicated left turn lanes, one dedicated through (straight) and a dedicated right-turn lane on the south side.
  • a new fully operated traffic light will be installed at the intersection of Gould Street and Central Avenue.

On surrounding streets, the developer is exploring options such as ‘no traffic’ signs during travel times, speed limit signs with speed cameras, traffic monitoring and police details.

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Special permit requested

The project will require special authorizations from the Town Planning Council:

  • to increase the Floor Area Ratio or FAR above the 0.70 permitted by law to 1.25, below the new Highland Commercial District 1 regulations of 1.35.
  • to reduce the number of parking spaces required from ~1,689 to ~1,408.
  • to increase the maximum building height from 35 feet to 42 feet for certain parts of the south building, from 56 feet to 70 feet for the north building and from 44 feet to 55 feet for the parking garage.
  • to increase the maximum number of floors from 2.5 to 3 for the south building and from 4 to 5 for the north building, as permitted by regulations recently passed by the Highland Commercial 1 District.
  • to permit the use of a restaurant and a single retail tenant
  • to create over 10,000 square feet of gross floor area and over 25 new parking spaces.
  • deviate from design requirements for retaining walls.

The Needham Planning Board will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, June 7 at 7:20 p.m., in person and via Zoom, to discuss the special permit application.

Taylor Driscoll contributed to this report.

Bonny J. Streater