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Ogilvie site redevelopment may have hit another snag

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Neighbors of Watertown Inc. is backing off from redeveloping the former Ogilvie Foods plant site into single-family housing on the city’s east side, saying the organization would lose money on the venture.

Gary C. Beasley, executive director of Neighbors, said Thursday morning that it would cost more to construct the homes along California Avenue and North Pleasant Street than it would make back in selling them. He made his remarks during an update on the project at an Advantage Watertown meeting.

“It would be difficult to cover our costs,” he said, noting that the organization would not be able to get any of its money back until the homes were sold. “We would be reluctant to do it on speculation.”

Officials believe it would cost about $150,000 per house to build and each would be sold for about $120,000.

Neighbors lost money on two other recent housing projects, a rehabilitation of a house on State Street and a new home on TenEyck Street that took more than a year to sell. He would not want to see that happen again to his organization, Mr. Beasley said.

The members of Advantage Watertown, a group of business and community leaders, also questioned the prospects of building and selling the homes because they would be market driven. Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham, however, said the venture might be worth subsidizing because it would end up redeveloping a city neighborhood.

The project originally was going to include about 19 homes in a subdivision with a road and a quarter-acre park, but the talk turned last year to scaling back the project to about nine houses along the two city streets after state funding ran dry.

It would cost about $1 million more to build a street and remove some remnants of the plant’s foundation than just to build the nine houses, city officials have said. More construction debris was found at the five-acre site than had been expected, making construction too costly.

If the housing project were to go forward, about four or five houses could be constructed along North Pleasant Street and the remainder on California Avenue.

That would leave open space between the two rows of houses.

Kenneth A. Mix, the city’s planning and community development coordinator, said the site could be used as a four-acre park if the housing does not move forward. The odd-shaped lot could be turned into a playground and ballfields.

The city’s Parks and Recreation Department will look at how a park could fit into its plans, he said.

“It could be a hybrid,” Mr. Mix said, adding it could contain a mixture of housing and a larger park.

The city will use a $200,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant to clean the site of soil contamination, cement foundation slabs and other debris from the old food plant. The city has set aside $400,000 in its capital projects budget to complete the job.

Part of the work will include determining whether any contamination is under the slabs and how to remove it.

The city has been talking about redeveloping the site for about 10 years. For years, residents of the neighborhood have called the site an eyesore. They generally have supported turning it into residential properties.

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