Northborough Zoning Board weighs in on proposed transportation, distribution moratorium

843
An Amazon truck turns out of the Northborough facility on Bartlett Street. Conversations are continuing about a potential transportation and distribution moratorium. (Photo/Ben Domaingue)

NORTHBOROUGH – Supporters on the Northborough Zoning Board of Appeals say a proposed moratorium on new transportation and distribution facilities would allow necessary time to review the impact that existing facilities have had in town.

Opponents, meanwhile, have questioned the need for such action, noting concerns about the rights of property owners, among other things.

The topic was discussed in a joint meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Planning Board last week as members of both boards convened to review a series of proposed bylaw amendments. 

“The Planning Board has been talking about [how] we obviously have this issue with traffic,” Planning Board Chair Kerri Martinek said of the moratorium during the meeting, which took place on Jan. 18. “We have Amazon, FedEx, A. Duie Pyle. We’ve had a lot of activity over the last couple years.” 

Martinek originally proposed the moratorium in August of last year. The board has continued discussing it over the past several months.

ZBA members voice opinions

Zoning Board of Appeals member Brad Blanchette was among those voicing his support for the moratorium. 

He cited Northborough’s experience with a previous moratorium on the construction of duplexes. He said that moratorium offered time for a “pause” to understand how the issue was affecting Northborough. 

“I agree with a moratorium just to take a step back, understand how this is impacting the town — good, bad, ugly, whatever,” he said. “I think we can level set and move on and make the best decision for the town as a whole, not just the Bartlett area or anything like that.” 

On the other side, Fran Bakstran was one of the members who said a moratorium is not necessary. 

“I understand that we want to make sure that we develop our industrial areas in a way that is well-suited to the town, but I think it’s interesting to require a property owner a full year of waiting before they can possibly sell something to a potential developer,” Bakstran said.

Moratorium would ban new facilities through May 1, 2023

The proposed moratorium would mandate that no special permit or building permit be issued for any transportation or distribution facilities in Northborough until after May 1, 2023. 

Under the moratorium, the Planning Board would form a Warehouse, Traffic and Trucking Committee, which would include a member of the Planning Board, a Selectman, and three residents selected by the Planning Board. 

That committee would be formed within 30 days of the moratorium taking effect. It would study the uses and structures before reporting its findings to the Planning Board. 

In addition to the moratorium, the Planning Board has discussed the possibility of revising the wording of its zoning definitions.

“Right now, our bylaws are not updated to where today’s market is or where we’re going with e-commerce and all of the trucking and distribution that’s going on. So, we’re not well protected,” Martinek said.

Discussion continues

Speaking on Jan. 18, Planning Board members Millie Milton and Anthony Ziton suggested outlining what they want to accomplish during the time that a moratorium would be in effect. 

“Why is it necessary to have a moratorium rather than just study this and make decisions for the next Town Meeting?” asked Zoning Board of Appeals Chair Richard Rand. 

Martinek said one suggestion was to have the revised zoning use definitions as a backup plan if the moratorium were to fail at Town Meeting.

“I think we need something in place,” Martinek said. 

She said she was worried about waiting to act on this matter, adding “What happens in the interim as we get applications and if we don’t have something in place?”

“Are we missing an opportunity to strengthen our bylaws?” she asked. “I’m not sure.” 

There’s land in the industrial zone that has been vacant since the town has had zoning bylaws, Rand said. 

“These people who own it have a right to sell it and make it productive for them,” Rand said. “They’ve owned it all these years. Why would we put the brakes on at this point in time?”

Discussion continues on Bartlett Street properties

Trucking and traffic has been the subject of ongoing discussion and debate in Northborough, particularly as a handful of facilities have opened and begun operations on Bartlett Street. 

Over the past year, the Board of Selectmen have put several measures into place along Bartlett Street, such as a safety zone requiring vehicles to slow down in front of Algonquin Regional High School during certain hours. The Selectmen have also approved a ban on “Jake brakes” as well as a truck exclusions on Maple Street and Ridge Road, which are both near Bartlett Street.

RELATED CONTENT

Northborough Planning Board discusses warehouse moratorium

Northborough Planning Board weighs next steps on warehouse moratorium