A bill making its way through the U.S. Congress could significantly change the dynamics of the stalled plan to redevelop the South Weymouth Naval Air Station

A bill making its way through Congress could jumpstart the long-delayed development of the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station.


The legislation would expedite the transfer of more than half the base land from the Navy to the local development agency and ultimately to a developer who has proposed building nearly 2,800 homes, 2 million square feet of commercial space and a movie studio in a development called SouthField. It would be the largest and most influential development project of the decade on the South Shore.


The proposed law has been passed by the House armed services committee. It would take away the Navy’s ability to consider the fair market value of its property in determining how it is transferred. The bill, co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, D-Quincy, is expected to come before the full house for a vote as early as this week.


“We know there’s been concern in the region about the (South Weymouth) base,” Delahunt said. “Hopefully, this is the answer.”


The Navy still owns about 900 acres of the 1,400-acre property, which closed in 1997. Base overseers South Shore Tri-Town Development Corp. needs to acquire that land before transferring it to LNR Property Corp., which plans to transform it into a residential and commercial complex called SouthField. LNR already owns 324 acres of developable land.


There is an agreement on the table for Tri-Town to buy the base from the Navy for $43 million. That price was formulated using an appraisal done of the land in 2006. Because of changes in the financial markers, Tri-Town has been unable to borrow the money to complete the deal.


The new law would make a “no-cost” transfer possible, meaning the Navy could not ask for money for the transfer. “No-cost” transfers were the norm until a 2003 federal law change allowed the Navy to seek market value for its property.


Tri-Town’s chief executive officer, Kevin Donovan, said the change would remove a key financial barrier that has contributed to a years-long delay in the transfer, a delay that has helped push the completion date for SouthField from 2017 to 2019 or 2020.


“I’m very excited and optimistic that this could be a big benefit to Tri-Town in terms of the final transfer of land,” Donovan said.


The $43 million purchase and sales agreement, which has not been signed but has been on the table since March 2008, includes $32 million to clean environmental contamination on the property caused by years of Navy use.


The change in law pushed by Delahunt would appear to force the Navy to fund the entire cleanup, though the legislation does not identify a funding source or timetable.


While cleanup is the legal responsibility of the Navy, there is no requirement that it be done on the timeline of a redevelopment project, which was a key goal of the $43 million agreement.


Tri-Town has yet to propose formally a no-cost transfer of base land, though it is being discussed. The Navy remains focused on closing the $43 million deal.


“The Navy stands ready, willing and able to convey title to the property to (Tri-Town) under the terms and conditions of our agreement,” Navy spokeswoman Melanie Ault wrote in a June 11 statement to The Patriot Ledger.


Tri-Town has had difficulty obtaining money on the bonding market that would allow the long-delayed transfer to happen.


In addition to the $43 million purchase price, the Navy is also looking for assurances that Tri-Town can raise the more than $100 million it needs to pay for infrastructure that LNR has built on the base. A failure to demonstrate that ability could hold up a transfer just as easily as the $43 million price could.


Jack Encarnacao may be reached at jencarnacao@ledger.com.