Shrewsbury Town Meeting article would increase building height limits in zoning district

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Shrewsbury’s zoning map includes the town’s Limited Industrial District, shown primarily around Route 20 and in the Northwest corner of town. (Photo/via town of Shrewsbury)

SHREWSBURY – The Shrewsbury Planning Board is recommending a Town Meeting article that would allow developers to build taller buildings in the town’s limited industrial zoning district.

This article, which is slated to go before Town Meeting on Saturday, would allow building heights up to 75 feet in limited industrial areas, which are located primarily around Route 20 and in the northwest corner of town, bordering Worcester and West Boylston.

The article was petitioned to be placed on the warrant by the Boston-based commercial real estate development company GFI Partners, which owns property in Shrewsbury.

GFI’s Vice President of Development Hayley Palazola talked about the benefits of these developments to the town during a Planning Board hearing on Town Meeting articles on May 5.

“If the bylaws are not flexible in nature, the tenants will go somewhere else,” Palazola said. “That’s really what we’re here for is we want to be able to respond to these requirements that are in the marketplace and give the decision to the Planning Board to make the ultimate determination.”

What is proposed

This article was one of the zoning articles ultimately recommended by the Planning Board on May 5.

It comes after Assistant Town Manager Kristen Las told the Board of Selectmen in March that the town had been approached by GFI Partners a couple months prior, who were requesting adjustments to the town’s zoning bylaws.

Back on May 5, Palazola told the Planning Board that the rise of e-commerce and a focus on optimizing the supply chain is increasing demand for warehouses with more vertical storage space.

In the 1990s, this average height, known as clear height, was 25 feet, she said. In the past decade, the standard has increased to 36 feet, though tenants prefer 40 feet or higher.

“Most recently, we’re seeing even higher requirements depending on the different users in the marketplace and what they’re storing inside,” Palazola said.

Article would allow special permit applications

According to GFI’s attorney Mark Donahue, GFI Partners owns four properties in this district. These include Worcester Sand and Stone and its 185 acres of land on Holden Street, which GFI acquired back in 2020, according to its website.

As Donahue described it, this article would let developers apply for a special permit to build up to that 75 foot limit in the limited industrial district.

Additionally, the article would let developers seek a special permit to allow for loading and unloading in the front of a building in the limited industrial district.

That would change a standard in Shrewsbury’s bylaws that requires all loading and unloading to take place in the rear of a building.

“That makes good sense in many cases, but there are cases in which it does not make sense,” Donahue said.

In her comments to the Planning Board, Palazola emphasized that Town Meeting approval of this article doesn’t rubber stamp a specific project.

“Instead it gives the Planning Board — you — the authority to determine on a case-by-case basis if it meant for a specific project location — the same decisions that you are already making as part of the site plan approval process where you’re looking at setbacks, lighting, traffic and noise,” she said.

Town Meeting is scheduled for May 21 at Oak Middle School.

As this article moves forward in Shrewsbury, it mirrors a similar article that went before Town Meeting and passed in Westborough earlier this year. 

That article was also prompted by requests from property owners to increase height limits.

“We wanted to protect [residential properties] as much as possible while still allowing all of these other properties…to expand or increase their height,” Town Planner Jim Robbins said in explaining the article prior to Town Meeting.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of Shrewsbury’s Town Meeting. That meeting will take place at Oak Middle School, not Shrewsbury High School. The Community Advocate regrets this error.

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