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Zoning Board Hears Asphalt Plant Requests

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On Wednesday night, the potential asphalt plant coming to the Groton Road area came before the Westford Zoning Board of Appeals as well as several neighbors concerned with the plant’s impact on their neighborhood.

The hearing was the latest chapter in a process for the plant proposed by Newport Materials, which currently operates a construction firm on the property in question.

Zoning Board Chairman Richard Hermann
Zoning Board Chairman Richard Hermann

Although site plan and special permit approval for the proposed plant was denied by the Planning Board in 2010 due to the belief that it did not meet the required “light industrial” criteria, appeals by Newport to Massachusetts Land Court have brought the process back to the Planning Board.

As part of the process, Newport also applied for two variances and two special permits that would be heard by the Zoning Board of Appeals, although one special permit asking the allowance of multiple principle uses was immediately withdrawn by Newport Attorney Doug Deschenes.

Deschenes explained this was because multiple principle uses are already in place for the site, which is home to a solar plant, commercial and industrial construction material sales, an office building and a quarry.

However, a request for a variance to allow an additional principle use on the lot as well as a request for a special permit to extend pre-existing multiple non-conforming pre-existing principal uses on the lot came before the board, with Deschenes saying that would be necessary for the new asphalt plant use on the property.

Town Counsel Jonathan Silverstein challenged the notion that the multiple non-conforming pre-existing principle uses for the site may not have been continuously used, potentially making them accessory uses, although Deschenes challenged that assertion and requested that exact information be obtained for future meetings.

Deschenes also requested a variance from the requirement of “quiet” machinery at the western border of the lot.

Although Westford zoning bylaws do not define what “quiet” exactly is under the circumstances, during the appeals process Land Court Justice Alexander Sands recommended that state regulations indicating either 70 decibels or ambient noise plus 10 decibels, whichever is lower, as the definition.

Deschenes indicated that a proposed sound barrier along the border may not reduce the sound level from the plant’s proposed 73 decibels, to the required 53, or 10 above the ambient noise currently at where the barrier would be located.

While town planning officials recommended that a decision on the variance wait until the Planning Board made a recommendation regarding the fence, Zoning Board Chairman Richard Hermann noted Deschenes’ point that the border in question was with Fletcher’s Quarry, which is much louder than 73 decibels at the center of its property and had already indicated it had no problems with the variance.

Several residents also came before the board on a variety of issues ranging from how the plant might impact abutters just across the border in Chelmsford to increased truck traffic on Groton Road.

In particular, multiple residents such as Wendy Welsh of Edwards Avenue had issues regarding the potential smell of the plant.

“My son is sensitive to smell, so I may have to move if we have an asphalt plant nearby due to my son, but selling the house will be difficult due to the smell,” she said. “I’m concerned that I might have to leave, so please take that into consideration.”

Newport CEO Richard DeFelice told residents that the smell would largely be mitigated through a substance called Ecosorb, although he became frustrated at one point after residents would not believe his claims.

“I’ve lived next to asphalt plants, but it’s not like you’re going to listen to me anyway,” said DeFelice. “You’re all having a good time saying these things, but none of you have done the studies we’ve done.”

The Zoning Board continued the hearing to March 18.

 

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