Just when it seemed to be gaining momentum, an effort to redevelop a blighted mall has been hit by a proposed zoning change that some say could quash the multi-million dollar plan. “It’s a fairly negative development from a business standpoint,” says Taurus Investments principal Peter Merrigan. “It’s certainly not sending a very warm welcome.”

Taurus and National Development paid $15 million for the failed Assembly Square Mall in 1997 and have been working since to create a use local residents could support for the 26-acre parcel. The latest concept features a Home Depot, a 150-room hotel and 150,000 sf of office space on an abutting 10-acre site acquired by Taurus in 1997 for $8.2 million. In a move made to appease Somerville Mayor Dorothy Kelly Gay and a citizen’s task force, Taurus and National would not dominate the mall property with so-called big-box stores, as originally envisioned.

The latest adaptation appeared to have considerable support, but a zoning change suggested by Alderman Denise Provost has put that proposal into turmoil. Provost would downzone the 140-acre Assembly Square area to allow only buildings that fit onto a city-sized street. That, according to Merrigan, would kill the Home Depot and make it difficult to build either the hotel or office building.

“It’s very detrimental to any kind of conventional development down there,” says Merrigan, adding that the idea “came out of left field.” Indeed, while calls to Gay’s office were not returned, some observers say they believe the Mayor was also caught off guard by Provost’s move.

Calls to Provost were not returned, but Somerville Chamber of Commerce president Stephen Mackey agrees that most in the city were surprised by the Alderman’s concept. Mackey says it would not only disrupt Taurus and National in their project, it might also require major public investment to create streets through the area as suggested by Provost. “It is a bit of a sidetrack,” Mackey says, although he adds it is unclear whether Provost’s colleagues will side with the zoning change.

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