Northborough Planning Board discusses warehouse moratorium

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By Laura Hayes, Senior Community Reporter

An A. Duie Pyle truck drives past the Amazon warehouse on Bartlett Street in Northborough. (Photo by/Laura Hayes)

NORTHBOROUGH — Planning Board Chair Kerri Martinek recently suggested a moratorium for warehousing, trucking and distribution in Northborough “until we get a better grasp of what’s going on in town and what the impact is…” 

Martinek offered this suggestion during an Aug. 17 meeting about potential zoning bylaws to be presented at Town Meeting. 

“I think that can be a double-edged sword, but I think it might be worth looking into just to see what we can be better prepared for,” said board member Millie Milton following Martinek’s comments. 

Martinek said there may be other tools to address concerns besides a moratorium.  

Vice Chair Amy Poretsky, meanwhile, called the moratorium “important,” saying surrounding towns are just starting to get Amazon facilities. 

“We have Amazon, FedEx, A. Duie Pyle,” she said. “At what point do you say Northborough has enough? Are we the only town with three trucking distribution centers?” 

Earlier in the meeting, Martinek said the board had received “continued concerns” about trucks not turning the right way or turning around in neighborhoods. 

“There are a couple of different areas where the trucks are stopping for sort of impromptu truck stops,” she said.

Additionally, Martinek said there were questions regarding whether FedEx is bound to the conditions of a common driveway special permit for its driveway.

According to Town Planner Kathy Joubert, FedEx was already in its current location when special permit applications were filed for the two Bartlett St. buildings that Amazon now occupies. 

It’s more about looking at the big picture than saying distribution and warehouses, Planning Board member Michelle Gillespie said. 

She suggested examining the definition of a distribution center and a warehouse, considering whether they’re branching out into facilities called “product centers.”

E-commerce has matured, she said. So, she suggested looking at the facilities as product centers to house products that businesses know will later be distributed, which she said isn’t a bad use for the area. 

“I think it’s a little more complicated than just saying we have three warehouses,” Gillespie said.
I think we might be missing an opportunity to have product centers there that could actually bring in good revenue, but you’re not going to have the same amount of volume of traffic.”

Board discusses violation enforcement

During Town Meeting in May, members approved an article that outlined the penalties for zoning bylaw violations. Those penalties included $50 for the first violation, $100 for the second, and $300 for the third and subsequent violation. 

Previously, the bylaw said a violator would be fined a sum not to exceed $300 for each violation. 

“Is that something that’s actually happening when conditions are not followed?” Martinek asked. “How do we as a board make heads or tails of the conditions we place, and what happens when they’re not followed, or what’s the consequence or is there a penalty associated with it?” 

Joubert said the town hadn’t received word that the bylaw was approved by the Attorney General. She said there’s a 90-day window from when it’s approved by Town Meeting to when the Attorney General needs to send a letter to Northborough, adding that sometimes the Attorney General asks for an extension. 

Fines have been applied in the past, Joubert said. 

“For anything, it’s always been a last resort to fine somebody,” she said.

Joubert said the town’s philosophy has been to try to work the issue out. 

Additionally, there have been cases where fines weren’t paid, she said. The cost to bring the violator to court “far exceeds” the fine, Joubert said.

“It’s very concerning that we don’t issue fines, and then when we do, they’re not paid,” Poretsky said. “It really makes me second-guess, do you approve something with conditions if they know the conditions mean nothing?”

Joubert said there have been “years” of decisions from the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals in which applicants followed conditions put in place.