Amazon to move into vacant buildings on Bartlett Street
By Liz Nolan, Contributing Writer
NORTHBOROUGH – A unanimous decision was made by the Northborough Planning Board at its October 20 meeting to deny The Gutierrez Company’s application for a special permit with site plan approval and two groundwater special permits for 0 Bartlett Street. The plan was to build a 150,000 square foot high bay distribution center abutting Stirrup Brook and near surrounding neighborhoods and Algonquin Regional High School. After months of continued hearings, thorough deliberations and heated opposition by residents, the Board’s decision was based on their concerns on the negative impacts to the area and their lack of confidence in the proper oversight of operational inspections and maintenance.
Representatives from The Gutierrez Company did return to this meeting with an additional evaluation on the traffic impact, an updated snow removal and storage plan and a design for the driveway configuration to discourage truck traffic on Bartlett Street.
The additional information didn’t convince the Board that the proposal was a good or safe fit.
One outcome of the updated traffic study discussion was that if this project generated traffic at a higher level, including background traffic from other projects planned, the intersection of Bartlett Street and Lyman Street could meet the criteria for a traffic signal. That is typically part of a developed mitigation plan and often the developer would be responsible for funding it, as was the case for Northborough Commons.
During this discussion, Town Building Inspector Bob Frederico revealed that Amazon will be moving into the vacant buildings at 330 and 350 Bartlett Street, ultimately adding to the Board’s traffic concerns for that area. The Gutierrez Company also owns those buildings.
“The impact is too enormous for that area and the town doesn’t have the resources or there isn’t a mitigation package in place to help mitigate these huge impacts that are going to happen whether it is to the environment or to safety,” said Board member Michelle Gillespie. “It is too much of a huge impact for that area at this point in time as presented to us.”
Board member Anthony Ziton’s concerns related to the site’s proximity to the high school, Stirrup Brook and the wetlands. An informed decision was also difficult to make with an unknown tenant.
He acknowledged the voices of residents.
“Over 1600 people have expressed their concerns about this,” he said. “This is more than we get in an election cycle in this town.”
The updated snow removal and storage plan didn’t convince the Board that long term, proper monitoring would be done. The snow could easily be pushed into wetlands along with sand, salt, deicer chemicals, oil, fuel leakage and debris, and impact the environment and natural habitats.
“It’s a high level of operation inspection and maintenance activities that are required to avoid negative impact to groundwater and we don’t seem to have the ability to enforce it,” said Board Chair Kerri Martinek. “I want to make sure we do a good job protecting our groundwater and protecting that area.”
The proposed reconfiguration of the facility’s driveway would make it difficult for trucks to maneuver a left into the facility off of Bartlett Street or a right out of the facility. Concerns from the Board included the potential hindrance of a fire engine being able to access the area during an emergency.
Town Engineer Fred Litchfield said that companies can direct drivers not to use that route unless there is a particular reason for them to be on that road, but it is more of a voluntary recommendation and not enforceable by the police.
A truck exclusion, as discussed during the October 19 Board of Selectmen meeting, indicated that neighboring towns need to agree to the redirection of traffic into their towns, which would be highly unlikely from Marlborough and Westborough.
A resident who spoke during public comment said that the Amazon facility was breaking news and he found it disturbing. He pointed out the proposed 150,000 square foot facility is six times larger than the Federal Express site and 2 ½ times larger than the A Duie Pyle site.
The noise level was discussed by another resident stating concerns with a potential 24 hour operation and the impact to neighbors especially those abutting the site.
“What we have done in the past to establish the benchmark for the performance standards in the bylaw is have a condition of approval that requires conducting and providing to the town a noise study prior to the issuance of the certificate of occupancy,” said The Gutierrez Company’s attorney Mark Donahue.
Attorney Benjamin Tymann, who was retained by residents Kristen and John Wixted, who live in the abutting neighborhood, also spoke on their behalf about the decisional criteria.
“These are special permits we are talking about and as the Board knows, there is no presumption whatsoever that these should be granted,” he said.
He referred to seven criteria that make it clear that the standard for granting approval is based on the Board’s written determination that the adverse effects of the proposed use will not outweigh the beneficial impacts to the town or neighborhood. The burden of proof is on the applicant.
“I don’t think the benefits outweigh the risks,” said Martinek. “There are too many adverse impacts going on here.”
The full meeting can be reviewed on the Northborough Remote Meetings channel on YouTube.