By Laura Hayes, Senior Community Reporter
SHREWSBURY — The Shrewsbury Board of Selectmen plan on submitting a letter in support of a proposed three-building development at the Centech Park North property near the corner of Route 20 and South Street.
The selectmen unanimously approved this letter during their Aug. 10 meeting.
“This is the first bona fide offer with somebody who’s willing to take this all the way to permitting and to start construction as soon as possible,” said Selectman Maurice DePalo.
He further called the effort “one of the most critical economic development projects in town in a really long time.”
NorthBridge plans to build an office building, a 102,000-square-foot warehouse and a 197,000-square-foot warehouse with entrances on Route 20 and South Street.
The project would develop a large parcel of land that the town first bought in 2002 to block a massive residential project by AvalonBay Communities.
Fourteen years after that purchase, the town highlighted the property in its 2016 Master Report, prioritizing its development for research, development and office uses.
Now, if NorthBridge’s proposal meets all town regulations, it shouldn’t be treated differently from other projects, DePalo said.
If the project doesn’t move forward, DePalo said, it will have a “chilling” effect on further economic development projects in Shrewsbury.
“I, personally, have a concern on the message that it’s going to send if it’s not [approved],” DePalo said.
He said the town should be mindful of neighbors’ concerns, though he pointed out that there’s a proposed buffer between the project and nearby homes around Thomas Farm Circle.
While the selectmen can’t tell the Planning Board what to do, DePalo said the selectmen could express a strong opinion.
“We have hung on,” said Selectman Beth Casavant. “We have waited. We have seen projects come before the [Shrewsbury Development Corporation] that weren’t the right project. This has the potential to be the right project.”
Through this ongoing permitting process, neighbors and community members have raised concerns in a number of Planning Board meetings.
These have varied from concerns about noise pollution from trucks to concerns about traffic impacts on both South St and Route 20.
One neighbor, David Singer, also specifically mentioned blasting at an Aug. 5 meeting.
“It seems evermore, after every meeting, Mother Nature screams ever louder to drop the must-build mandate and be left alone for the people of Shrewsbury and the health of the town,” he said.
NorthBridge has responded to some of these comments from neighbors and the Planning Board itself, adding signage and restricting truck traffic to their entrance on Route 20. NorthBridge representatives also said officials at the state Department of Transportation had told them vehicles would only be able to turn right into and out of that Route 20 entrance.
According to traffic engineer Rebecca Brown, as part of the peer-review traffic study, experts examined collisions at specific studied locations, including points in the westbound lanes of Route 9 and the connector to Route 140.
NorthBridge is proposing another study to monitor traffic within six months of their buildings being occupied. This would help determine whether or not a right turn lane needs to be constructed on South Street.
Todd Morey, Vice President of the engineering firm Beals Associates, said on Aug. 5 that the development could also create channels to make it geometrically impossible to turn left onto Route 20. They could further install a concrete divider between the two channels.
He said the board would be able to review plans for the entrance at their next meeting, which is scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 19 at 7 p.m.