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MA Firm Turns ’Useless’ Land Into Valuable Commodity

Wed November 17, 2004 - Northeast Edition
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Kevin Sweeney, owner of Sweeney & Sons, Acton, MA, believes that land is like a canvas, “entrusted to us by our creator to demonstrate to the world that, through our collective effort, we can improve this small piece of land. If we do our jobs properly, we will leave this earth in a significantly improved condition.”

In the Bay State, the majority of prime real estate was built upon long ago, and today’s developer must, by necessity, work with less than optimum land, requiring imaginative planning, creative engineering and a resourceful contractor with quality equipment to transform this land into a suitable platform for the homes.

“Land developers and home builders are actually a far cry from what many environmental organizations would have you believe about us,” began Sweeney. “We don’t destroy land. The truth is that today’s land development contractor in Massachusetts takes comparatively worthless terrain and transforms it into habitable, tax generating property, while providing housing in a market where the demand for it far outstrips the available supply. All the prime land in this state that once was available for housing has long ago been developed. We are taking what is left, sometimes at considerable expense, time and effort, and turning it into a valuable commodity.”

Such has been the case with the Colonial Acres IV development in Acton on which the land was previously considered useless, even for farming.

“The lots that we are building must meet the locally mandated one-acre size,” said Sweeney. “To do this, we’ve been relying on our new Hyundai excavators and loaders to meet this challenge.”

The 35-acre (14.2 ha) tract of land has required approximately 50,000 cu. yds. (38,228 cu m) of earth and crushed rock fill. In an attempt to balance the cuts and fills, Sweeney has excavated some on-site material, which it has then processed, recycled and relocated.

“This has been a tricky undertaking because it becomes inefficient and costly in many instances if you handle material more than once or twice,” Sweeney said.

To handle both in-place materials and those it has processed by a subcontractor using portable crushing plants, Sweeney & Sons has employed its new Hyundai Robex 180LC-7 hydraulic, Hyundai HL770-7 wheel loader and Hyundai 360LC-3 excavator.

The 40,500-lb. (18,370 kg) 180LC-7 excavator with its 1-cu.-yd. (.76 cu m) heavy- duty Geith bucket handles the larger chunks of crushed ledge (rock) as easily as it does the processed and screened stone fill. With a combination boom and arm digging range in excess of 22 ft. (6.7 m), or ground length of 31 ft. (9.4 m), the excavator is ideal for both digging and backfilling.

The Hyundai HL770-7 wheel loader, with its speed, maneuverability, rapid duty cycle times and 5-yd. (4.6 m) capacity bucket, makes short work of both its materials stockpiling ability and its backfilling capabilities.

Sweeney is appreciative of all the people and firms that have helped him and his company achieve success, not only in business, but also what he considers being stewards of the land and the construction industry.

“The people in places far away from here who build this Hyundai equipment, the people like Chappell Tractor Sales here in the United States who sell it and people like ourselves, who are the eventual end users, all have a common bond. This is a symbiotic relationship that is supporting all of us and our loved ones. This is something not to be taken lightly. We all have an ultimate destiny to fulfill for the good of mankind.

“We are really collaborators in this world of construction. Every nut, bolt and piece of steel that go into our Hyundai excavators and loaders, as well as every piece of dirt and ledge that we move, must fit together in the overall scheme of things,” Sweeney said.

For more than three decades, Kevin Sweeney has been very active in the Homebuilders Association of Massachusetts (HBAM). He is a past president of that organization and served for 20 years on its legislative committee. Currently, he serves as the chairman of the technical committee and does a significant amount of the Title V (Board of Health) work.

“This tract of land where our company is based has been in my family since 1933 when my father procured it as part of a parcel he purchased to turn into a farm after emigrating here from Ireland,” he said. “When the attempt eventually failed, mainly because the land would not sufficiently support that enterprise, my older brothers turned to the land development and home building industries for a livelihood.

“After growing up in this industry from about the time I was able to use a broom to sweep the office and shop floors, I entered the business full time after earning a college education in accounting while, at the same time, having a minor in computer science. After a few years in those fields, the lure and love of the land, however, were to prove to be too strong an inducement and I returned. In 1965, I purchased the company from my older brothers and have been here ever since. By the 1970s, I had also acquired ownership of all of the family’s remaining property. In continuing a family tradition, my three sons, Mathew, Luke and John, have now come onboard and are helping me manage the operations,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney & Sons builds approximately 15 new homes a year; the company also does some site development work for others. All this equates to approximately $5 million to $10 million worth of gross business annually, with the majority of its work done within Massachusetts, in small towns similar to Acton, Littleton, Maynard, Gardner and Bolton.

“We try to do all that we can with our own forces, including owning our own equipment in order to do our own earthwork and roadbuilding, preferring to remain as self reliant as possible. Over the years that has proven to be more efficient,” Sweeney said.

“There are some specialty phases that we do not do, preferring to leave that to the professionals in the field. This includes blasting and on-site crushing and processing, although we are considering the purchase of some screening equipment.

Sweeney said he elected to go with Hyundai heavy equipment as “simply a matter of economics.”

“Dollar for dollar,” he said, “they give us a better return on our long-term investment. We are here for the long haul and are not going to turn our equipment spread over once this project is done. We have our own maintenance shop and mechanic and we expect, given the proper care, that the equipment we buy will provide years of useful life.

“This business is a cooperative operation involving many diversified fields of interest. One of the best things a contractor can have when it comes to money is a good bank and a banker knowledgeable about our business. One of the ways to assure this is to demonstrate to them that you are making astute choices where it involves their money. Purchasing equipment that has proven longevity like our new Hyundai excavators and wheel loaders is one of the best things we can do in this regard.

“We have been in this game long enough to have tried many different brands of heavy equipment and, at this time, we find that to be with Hyundai machines and a dealer like Chappell Tractor who stands by the equipment they sell and have an excellent reputation when it comes to sales, parts availability and service,” concluded Kevin Sweeney.