NORTHBOROUGH – Plans to construct a distribution center on Bartlett Street returned before the Planning Board on Feb. 7 following a Land Court order.
After the Planning Board denied the site plan approval of the project, the Gutierrez Company appealed their decision.
The appeal went to trial in May. In November Judge Kevin Smith remanded the project back to the Planning Board, finding that the decision was “legally untenable, arbitrary, unreasonable, and otherwise beyond the proper exercise of the Board’s law authority,” he wrote in his decision.
Town Counsel David Doneski noted during the Planning Board meeting that the court remanded it to the board with a limited scope: one, to allow the board to review the project under the nine-factor non-discretionary test for site plan approval, and two, determine whether or to what extent the operations and maintenance plan and snow storage plan that had been submitted required more details.
“The purpose of that was that the court determined that the original application had not been reviewed and evaluated as it should have been under those nine criteria,” said Doneski.
What is proposed
The site at 0 and 301 Bartlett Street is about 66 acres. The Gutierrez Company is proposing to build a 150,900-square-foot distribution center and industrial warehouse with access off Bartlett.
Gutierrez’s attorney Mark Donahue noted that the Conservation Commission, Design Review Committee, Groundwater Advisory Committee, Massachusetts Environmental Protection Agency, the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife through its National Heritage and Endangered Species Program and Massachusetts Water Resources Authority either approved or recommended the project.
Donahue argued that the judge reached a conclusion that the site plan satisfied the nine factor test and “should have been approved.”
During this portion of the meeting which lasted about three hours, Planning Board members asked Gutierrez numerous questions. Chair Kerri Martinek asked if Gutierrez had an updated business plan for the tenant.
“Without having some sense as to when construction could start, it’s been a significant hamstring to going to market the tenants,” Donahue said.
However, he said Gutierrez’s plans would be to begin construction this year and locate a tenant throughout the course.
In their decision, the Planning Board wrote that the project would “derogate” from the purpose of the Groundwater Protection Overlay District by “impairing ambient groundwater quality and reducing existing recharge capacity, and will adversely affect the quality or yield of an existing or potential water supply.”
The board specifically said that Gutierrez’s snow removal plan wasn’t “realistic” because of the precision required to move the snow to the exact specified locations.
According to Donahue, Gutierrez had its engineering firm Allen & Major Associates look at the board’s comments as well as the testimony from trial and supplement the operations and maintenance and snow storage plan.
Allen & Major’s David Robinson said the only change to the operations and maintenance plan as requested by the town’s peer reviewer Mark Bartlett of Stantec Consulting Services at trial was to incorporate a spill response portion.
According to the Donahue, besides one comment regarding sediment removal from detention basins, Gutierrez agreed with their proposed edits to the operations and maintenance plan.
Robinson presented the revised snow storage plan, which he said consolidated the proposed snow storage areas, as recommended by the peer reviewer during trial.
During the meeting, member Amy Poretsky noted a memo from Robinson that said the snow storage plan avoided conflict with trees and landscaping. She argued that the snow would be pushed on top of trees and landscaping.
Robinson said the snow plan was designed to the “maximum extent practicable” to avoid landscaped areas.
“It’s not unusual to store snow in grassed or landscaped areas or around trees. It’s to the maximum extent practicable,” Robinson said.
During the meeting, several residents voiced concerns.
Among his comments, John Wixted said light and noise trespass was sensitive for the residents that live in the area, noting that the land between the building and residential areas wouldn’t be as vegetated between October to April. The hours of operation are important for the residents, he said.
“I find it hard to believe that the Gutierrez Company would invest the kind of money needed to build this warehouse without having a prospective tenant in mind,” Wixted said. “We’ve been told that we have no idea what the hours of operation are going to be. We’ve been told we have no idea who the tenant is going to be. This just opens us up to a whole lot of bad surprises.”
He asked the Planning Board to “be sensitive to the fact that people live here” and consider restricting trucks entering and exiting from the west.
Ultimately, the Planning Board continued the hearing until Feb. 21.