Developer Proposes Plan for Axe Factory
By Ted Glanzer
CANTON –A developer at a special meeting of the Board of Selectmen on May 27 presented a $50 million to $60 million plan to convert the long underutilized Axe Factory property into a mixed-use development of apartments and commercial development.
Sheldon Stein, of New York-based Ranger Properties, presented a preliminary plan that would preserve most of the buildings on the parcel, with the demolition of two minor structures, and the construction of several new buildings including a parking garage.
Stein said about 70% of the development would be apartments, which would be a combination of converted buildings and new construction. Stein estimated that the forebay buildings would include approximately 80 units and the granite building approximately 20. Three new buildings would represent approximately 120, he added.
Another portion of the development, about 30%, would be designated for commercial use, such as restaurants, maker spaces, artisan spaces, art galleries and possibly office space. It does not, Stein said, “lend itself to chain stores.”
The apartments would be rentals and mostly one- and two-bedroom units.
Stein said a similar project he had done attracted mostly young people, 25 to 32 years old, to the apartments.
“The town loved it because it really energized the town,” he said.
He also said there are certainly challenges.
“This is not a typical project,” Stein said. “It’s beautiful project, but there are a lot of issues with it.”
Stein noted many of the 13 or so buildings on the site are in various states of decay and decomposition.
“We made an effort to look at the historic structures and save almost all of them which we’ve done,” he said. One of the structures targeted for demolition is the so-called grinding shed.
The development would require 600 parking spaces, Stein said, half of which would be through the new 3.5 story parking garage, with the other 300 being on land. The parking garage would be one story above ground, Stein said.
Two signature elements, Stein said, are a boulevard down the center of the development that would be flanked with trees. In addition, there would be a thoroughfare and piazza for public space that slopes down to the river.
Town Planner Neil Pade described as a pre-application hearing for members of various boards and commissions - such as the selectmen, planning and zoning and inland wetlands - to review and offer suggestions to the developer to help the process go smoother.
Those present asked about parking, foot traffic, access to the river, whether there would be a retaining wall, whether the development would be entirely in Canton or creep into Avon (it’s entirely in Canton) and what the commercial space would be used for.
Stein said his timeline would be to hopefully complete the review and approval process this year, close on the property in the first month or two in 2022 and then begin construction accordingly.
He said he has not determined whether construction would be done in phases, but if his group did go down that road, among the first phase would be the parking garage to enable the commercial portion of the property to be used.
They have not begun designing the buildings, Stein said, but they are generally considering four or five story buildings.
“We’re looking at volume” at this point, Stein said.
In response to a question on wetlands regulations, Stein said the goal would be to have as minimal disruption as possible “given the complexity of the site.”
“We’re trying to thread the needle carefully,” he said.
Pade said the property, since 1999, has been zoned for high-density residential, and commercial.
Pade said there is no bigger project in Canton than the redevelopment of the Axe Factory building. He said the town has gone through a dozen proposals through the last 25 years, including one that called for the filling in of the canal to provide surface area for parking.
“We wanted a partner,” Pade said. “You couldn’t conclude a meeting in Canton without talking about the Axe building.”
Now a developer is looking to convert and save a majority of existing buildings.
“There are a lot of details on how to do that,” Pade said to the meeting attendees. “We really need to work together. This is too big a project in Canton for us not to do that.
In response to a query to a possibility of including a small hotel to the development, Stein appeared cool to the idea.
He said generally hotels don’t work unless there is an educational or business demand three to five days a week.
“It would be disingenuous for me to tell you that would work [in Canton] economically,” he said.
Finally, he said he would look into preserving the iconic Axe Factory sign.
The complex was home to the world famous Collins Company, which manufactured edge tools from 1826 through 1966.