Turf soccer complex gets approval from Northborough Planning Board


By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer

Turf soccer complex gets approval from Northborough Planning Board
The lot at 400 Cedar Hill St. sits currently overgrown and empty.

Northborough – An abnormal path through the local permitting process has earned developers a stamp of approval for a new soccer complex in town.

Pushed by the New England FC soccer program, the project will bring a pair of turf fields to a vacant lot at 400 Cedar Hill St. As the start construction rapidly approaches, however, developers only find themselves in this position after a complex summer of talks with town officials.

All this started in January, when NEFC first filed documents. In February, they then met with the Planning Board, only to request a continuance.

“They were still finessing the plans,” Town Planner Kathy Joubert said.

Then COVID-19 hit.

Though NEFC came back with revised plans in April, the Planning Board did not start meeting again, via Zoom, until June.

“That’s when the town set up the Zoom accounts, so that’s when we all were trained,” Joubert explained of the delay.

When developers and Planning Board members did finally meet, they promptly stuck on a seldom exploited quirk in state law that developers had built their proposal around.

Known as the Dover Amendment, the law allows churches, schools and daycares to circumvent zoning regulations and build anywhere in a town.

Since old zoning laws in Northborough banned recreational sports facilities in industrial districts, which include Cedar Hill Street, developers had tried to frame their sports complex as an educational facility.

The Planning Board did not see things the same way.

“They had questions over whether this is an educational use. Or is it actually just a recreational use,” Joubert said.

This was the first time since coming to Northborough that Joubert saw an application cite the Dover Amendment. On review, that version of the application would fizzle before approval precisely because of the Dover legalese.

Nonetheless, as Dover Amendment talks stalled, the Planning Board offered developers an alternate path forward.

Before Town Meeting, the group generally coalesced around the idea of changing those aforementioned zoning regulations to allow recreational facilities in industrial districts.

Once town meeting eventually also approved that idea, the Planning Board invited developers to alter the phrasing of their application to target approval under this new part of the by-law.

“Everyone agreed that it’s not a bad place to put a place such as this, whether it’s indoor or outdoor regulation,” Joubert said.

The proposed soccer complex on Cedar Hill Street has its approval from the Planning Board. Despite its proximity to wetlands, the project has also been greenlit by the Conservation Commission. Now, it’s time for building permits.

Construction crews may soon break ground. NEFC did not return a request for comment for this article, though.

For this space itself, long stuck on the edge of town and overgrown with weeds, this is new life.

“This was the first applicant that went all the way,” Joubert said.

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