By Liz Nolan, Contributing Writer
Northborough – STERIS AST, located at 435 Whitney St., is in the process of obtaining approval from the Northborough Planning Board to expand their operations and build a new facility next door at 425 Whitney Street. STERIS provides decontamination and sterilization technology. The new facility would include the addition of x-ray radiation technology.
The concern of the Planning Board, as well as neighboring residents, is safety. This is new sterilization technology using radiation and is the first of its kind in the country.
Although Northborough Town Building Inspector Bob Frederico classified the operations as light manufacturing, the Planning Board questions otherwise and is requesting a peer review.
STERIS Attorney Stephen Madaus argued that the site plan approval is not a review of the allowed use or a regulation of the allowed use. He said that a radiation peer review is not relevant to the site plan or the role of the Planning Board, and STERIS met all criteria for use for the industrial zoned district and it is not the Planning Board’s job to deny the use of the property.
Planning Board Chair Kerri Martinek noted that it was clear that the Board still had questions as to if the use would be light manufacturing. A peer review would help the Board determine if the data and facts support the operations and meet the standards of use criteria as outlined in their bylaws.
Martinek said that peer review is for someone with specific expertise to review the application.
“I am not a radiation expert,” she said. “I cannot interpret it. You want to put a radiation facility next to a neighborhood and you act like it is an ice cream shop.”
Planning Board Member Amy Poretsky agreed with moving forward with a peer review.
“This is a huge use where there is not another one of these plants in the U.S. at this time,” she said. “Under purview of the Planning Board, we are to protect our town so peer reviews are allowed in our bylaws and if there is any case for peer review this is definitely one of them.”
Madaus said that STERIS bought the property based on the zoning designations.
“It’s probably the least offensive type of uses that could go into an industrial zoning district,” he said. “I honestly believe that.”
Planning Board Member Anthony Ziton reiterated that there is a neighborhood that is extremely concerned having a technology so close that has not been used in the U.S.
“Even from STERIS’s perspective, you would want to at least be a good neighbor and make folks feel safe who are so close to this plant that needs 12 foot walls and ceilings to contain the technology,” he said. “Furthermore, I don’t even understand how you can come to the conclusion that anything needing a 12 foot wall is light industrial.”
“This level of scrutiny is because radiation is scary to people, and it’s scary to the neighbors and our job is to ensure the safety of these projects,” said Martinek.
No public comments were made. STERIS agreed to continue with the peer review process and their next public hearing will continue on Tuesday, Dec. 1 at 6 p.m.