November 23, 2016
BURLINGTON — EvoText, Inc., a company that provides educational software and promotes personalized learning, recently earned approval from the Planning Board to locate its business at the historical Kent Cottage on Network Drive, off Middlesex Turnpike, in the Northwest Park Planned Development District.
Two special permit applications were ratified as part of the formal hearing process, which was originally presented to the board last December.
Founded in 2012, EvoText, Inc. - which currently has its offices at 83 Cambridge St. in Burlington - is an educational technology company and software development warehouse. They develop custom e-learning solutions and interactive digital textbooks for grades K-12. There is no retail element to the business so traffic is non-existent with this type of company.
The company is going to locate in Kent Cottage, one of the few historical structures left in Burlington. The stone house was built in 1850 by wealthy Charlestown brewer John Kent, who died in Burlington in 1870. His daughter Helen remained in the house until her death in 1897. The home has had several owners since then but has not been used since 1981. The house stands three stories high at roughly 4,500-square-feet. It includes a concrete block structure in the rear of the house, which was built in 1930-31.
The proposal calls for the removal of the concrete block addition in the rear, the renovation of the cottage into office space, and the addition of a 2-story glass office structure. The project also includes the addition of a paved parking area, as well as associated drainage and utilities improvements.
The Nordblom Company has owned the property for eight years and has been looking for the right tenant to occupy the unique space, which has been a difficult endeavor with its setting in an area encompassed in wetlands. The site is mostly dominated by wetlands; roughly 22 acres to be exact, resulting in only 1-acre deemed as buildable. This is why 26,000-square-feet of impervious surface is going to be added to the site so the existing wetlands are controlled.
Attorney Christopher Coleman of Coleman Law Office, representing EvoText, Inc., emphasized his client’s hope is to restore Kent Cottage and fit it for use, which is something the town has been interested in for years.
“The applicant plans to remove the existing portion and replace it with 12,800-square-feet of office space,” said Coleman. “It complies with the use and dimensional requirements.”
Nordblom’s Senior Vice President and Director of Mixed-Use Projects Todd Fremont-Smith touched on the process of finding a suitable tenant for the historical site.
“We did commit to the town to try to find a way to restore [Kent Cottage],” he disclosed, noting Nordblom has been trying to find the right use for the site. “EvoText, Inc. has fallen in love with it and we are happy they have. I think it is the perfect use for this building.”
The cottage itself will need to be restored as unwanted scenarios like animals moving in and floods have made the structure uninhabitable at this point.
“The ’boutique office’ portion of the project will resemble the original cottage,” explained the architect.
Since last December, EvoText, Inc. has worked extensively with the Conservation Commission, who formally supported the project after asking the applicant to conduct a habitat study, which resulted in an order of conditions that were enacted. These conditions include a new wetland line, a retaining wall that is just under 4-feet so it is not considered a structure, and an agreement that EvoText, Inc. will work with the town in the coming years to incorporate a walking trail that will stretch from 3rd and 4th Ave. to the Kent Cottage site. The Network Drive site is just south of 4th Ave.
“These are all very minor modifications,” remarked Senior Civil Engineer Katie Enright, of Howard Stein Hudson. “EvoText loves this project and loves this building, and they are working very hard to make this work financially.”
The common theme expressed by EvoText, Inc. is to ensure that Kent Cottage is the focal point of the site.
“With the proposed office in the back of the site, it has been made clear and is real important to [EvoText, Inc.] that Kent Cottage is the star of this development,” avowed Enright.
A favorable board
The planners voiced satisfaction with the proposal and all were happy to see that a company is going the extra mile to preserve one of the few historical sites in Burlington.
“This is a terrific project that allows one of the few historical sites in Burlington to be preserved,” stated Planning Director Kristin Kassner.
Several members talked about how appreciative they are of EvoText, Inc. to move forward with this proposal.
“I could not be happier that somebody is using [Kent Cottage] this way and appreciates the value of it and is willing to preserve that,” member Joe Impemba said in support.
Vice Chair Jack Kelly added, “I am so happy you are able to preserve it. Thank you.”
Member Paul Raymond also declared his appreciation of the “contrast” of the proposal as well as the fact that Kent Cottage is “being taken care of” by EvoText, Inc.
The board voted 6-0 in favor of the two special permits. Member Carol Perna was absent from the meeting.