By Laura Hayes, Senior Community Reporter
NORTHBOROUGH – STERIS Corp. has filed an appeal after the Northborough Planning Board denied its site plan and groundwater special permit in June.
STERIS has properties at 435 and 425 Whitney St. in Northborough. It offers contract sterilization and laboratory testing and wanted to construct two additions to its building at 425 Whitney St.
Attorneys for STERIS noted in their complaint that discussions with the Planning Board stretched over 20 public hearings for over a year-and-a-half between Oct. 2019 and May 2021.
“Notwithstanding the absence of any evidence in the record that would support its denials, the Planning Board applied the wrong criteria to STERIS’ application contrary to detailed legal memoranda from Town Counsel, and manufactured purported findings of fact to deny STERIS’ application with gross negligence, in bad faith and with malice against STERIS,” the attorneys wrote.
The company has asked state Land Court to reverse their denial and award them damages, costs and attorney’s fees.
STERIS files appeal
STERIS received approvals from the Zoning Board of Appeals, Conservation Commission and Groundwater Advisory Committee prior to the Planning Board’s denial.
Additionally, a peer reviewer didn’t find any deficiencies in the project or note a part of the site plan review or groundwater special permit that the company didn’t meet, STERIS wrote.
STERIS’ additions would have added about 23,000 square feet to its 44,000-square-foot building.
The purpose of the project is to install an x-ray pallet system to sterilize medical devices, equipment and consumer products, the appeal said.
That pallet would be located within a concrete-enclosed room called a shield that “is designed for containment of the highest output of power to be created by the x-ray system,” the appeal said.
According to the appeal, the x-ray system is designed and operated in accordance with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health requirements. The department has “exclusive” jurisdiction over the technology, the lawyers wrote.
“At many of the sessions, the Board expressed confusion as to the scope of its jurisdiction and review, and the appropriate criteria for the site plan review and the groundwater special permit requested in the Application,” the complaint said.
STERIS argued that the Planning Board exceeded its authority and applied the incorrect standards, “… despite being repeatedly advised of the proper criteria and standards by Town Counsel and STERIS.”
STERIS alleged that the board refused to accept the limited scope of its review of its application. It also alleged that the board refused to accept the reports and testimony of STERIS’ consultants as well as the board’s peer reviewers.
Planning Board members raised concerns over STERIS proposal
The Planning Board denied STERIS’ plans during their meeting on June 1.
All of the board members expressed concerns about a variety of topics, including a proposed concrete plant on site during construction, noise, lighting, stockpiles of materials and a series of reports filed with the town.
Chair Kerri Martinek said there wasn’t information about the automatic shut down of on-site chillers. She said there wasn’t information on the technical design of an emergency shut down system, just as she said there was no information on any protocol or plan for an emergency shutdown.
“I think evaluating safety is part of our responsibility, and I think part of what we did is to figure out ‘Is this a safe project?’” Martinek said.
She said questions were asked about alarms, emergency planning and the life expectancy of the concrete which would house sterilization equipment in the new addition.
“Some of that data, we didn’t get,” she said.
“I see this as kind of two components — the concrete plant being one and their normal operation being the second,” said Planning Board member Anthony Ziton.
He expressed concern about the size and scope of the concrete plant in addition to the number of trucks coming in and out of the site. He was also concerned about an initially proposed 3 a.m. start time for construction work.
“I think it’s going to be very upsetting for the folks living over there, and they’re certainly going to be impacted by noise and dust and other things,” Ziton said.
Serving on the Groundwater Advisory Committee, Ziton said it would be “very difficult” to put in control measures, adding that groundwater would have to be constantly monitored.
Planning Board member Michelle Gillespie said the board talked with STERIS about having its concrete prepared offsite.
“That was an option,” Gillespie said. “We actually gave the applicant the opportunity to come back, which the applicant chose not to, which is disappointing.”
During previous meetings, STERIS representatives had said the company wanted to have the concrete plant onsite to control the quality of the concrete. By having crews start to use the concrete machine at 3 a.m., STERIS could maximize the cooler hours of the day, which would help preserve the quality of the concrete, representatives said.
Some of those same representatives also, however, said they were open to starting at 7 a.m. after hearing board members’ concerns.
In general, Ziton said he didn’t agree with a use determination that classified the project as “light manufacturing.” The definition of light manufacturing, he said, dictates that a process must not involve radiation.
The operation is classified as radiation machine, he said, referencing equipment that would be in use inside STERIS’ proposed addition.
“This is major equipment running here,” Ziton said. “This isn’t like some small operation.”
STERIS’ attorneys filed their appeal on Aug. 31.
Docket information indicated that the case had been assigned to Judge Jennifer Roberts on Sept. 9.