Innovative planning turns stubborn landfill into premier retail location

Dickinson Development Corporation Reading, MA

Project highlights

Client challenge:
The town of Reading, Massachusetts was struggling to afford the $5 million needed to clean up and close its 33.5-acre landfill, and sought to have developers foot the bill. Dickinson Development saw the site’s potential for commercial development, but the many regulatory, environmental and geotechnical engineering issues attached to the parcel represented a daunting challenge.

Our approach:
Haley & Aldrich helped produce a creative, viable commercial plan for the property, and worked with Dickinson and stakeholders to bring the plan to fruition. The winning solution was an innovative double-decker shopping center, which used approximately 150,000 cubic yards of landfill waste as a structural asset.

The municipal landfill contained up to 50 feet of solid waste overlying thick swamp deposits, almost fully surrounded by wetlands. Environmental efforts included restoration of wetlands and wetland buffer zones, a stormwater retention system, and a landfill gas collection and destruction system – in addition to the sealed cap laid over the landfill.

A pioneering design from Haley & Aldrich used grid-reinforced waste materials from the landfill site to construct 100,000 square feet of retaining walls. Believed to be the first of their kind, the walls are also functional in the landfill cap and gas management system, and saved millions of dollars in construction costs.

Value delivered:

  • The former landfill found new life, brought jobs to the town and – with a tax assessment over $100 million – has paid millions of dollars into the town’s coffers, while removing a $5 million environmental liability from the books.
  • The mixed-use property now houses two anchor retailers – each among the most successful locations within their respective franchises.

With the right touch, a landfill eyesore becomes premium retail center

Down in the dumps, for 15 years

The Town of Reading, Mass. had a $5 million problem. Its 33.5-acre inactive landfill on the edge of town had been ordered capped by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Daunted by the expense, the town offered the property for development in the mid-1980s, which would place the cleanup cost onto the developer’s shoulders as part of the construction cost for the project. But 15 years later, no developer had been able to devise an economically viable plan that could bring the property back to life. In 1999, MassDEP started to enforce its deadline for capping the site.

Discovering hidden potential, creating real value

Developer Mark Dickinson engaged Haley & Aldrich to help him solve his problem. He had previously prepared proposals for the property that had failed to pass muster. He knew an opportunity existed there, but given the swarm of environmental and technical issues at play, and the resulting high costs, it was a struggle to get all the pieces to come together.

With the help of Haley & Aldrich, creative solutions quickly crystalized for the developer. Given the added costs of building on and closing a landfill, the 33.5 acres were apparently too small to generate sufficient revenues. There simply wasn’t enough area for both retail floor space and needed parking, using the conventional development approach – that is, a single-level suburban mall. But that didn't mean the idea was dead. It simply meant that a winning solution would have to be something unconventional.

Then Haley & Aldrich and the team proposed exactly that: What about a shopping center with two anchor stores, but only a single footprint? That could preserve parking space, but could two heavy, very different stores be stacked one on top of another? Could an efficient structure and foundation be designed, given the landfill subsurface – itself overlaying swampy terrain? Could all the waste be kept on-site, as directed by MassDEP, while creating viable parking areas? And could the project get the right major retailers interested?

It proved to be a winning idea. Home Depot was soon signed up, and then noted Boston-area retail innovator Jordan’s Furniture signed on – a client that Haley & Aldrich helped bring on board. The project came to full fruition in 2005, and today each of those stores is a leading revenue-generator within their respective franchises.

The vision was just the beginning

While H&A’s contribution to the initial project vision was essential to Walker’s Brook Crossing becoming a reality, the work was just beginning. The project required comprehensive ground engineering, environmental and permitting services from Haley & Aldrich.

There were major challenges, from the site’s geometry and topography, to the fact that the municipal landfill contained up to 50 feet of solid waste overlying swamp deposits, almost fully surrounded by wetlands. Environmental efforts included restoration of wetlands and wetland buffer zones, a stormwater retention system, a landfill gas collection and destruction system – in addition to a sealed cap laid over the landfill. More than 150,000 cubic yards of existing solid waste were relocated on the site, much of it used as the foundation for the elevated parking serving the Jordan’s Furniture store upstairs.

More than 100,000 square feet of retaining walls, as high as 45 feet, were installed to contain the elevated sections of the site. Because conventional structural walls with off-site backfill would have been prohibitively expensive, Haley & Aldrich developed a pioneering design using soft-faced grid-reinforced landfill waste to construct the walls. Believed to be the first of their kind, the walls are also functional in the landfill cap and gas management system, and saved millions of dollars in construction costs.

From eyesore to asset

In addition to creating thousands of jobs during construction and ongoing retail operations, the Walker’s Brook Crossing development saved Reading $5 million in landfill remediation costs and potential MassDEP sanctions, returned $3 million on the sale of the property to Dickinson, and removed an unsightly tarnish on a major roadway. With a property tax assessment of $115 million in 2014, Walker’s Brook now generates close to $2 million annually to the town. Innovation and determination turned an eyesore into a major regional asset.

For more information on this project, contact:

Damian Siebert
Steve Kraemer

Jordan's and Home Depot cover photography by Mark Flannery.