After months of meetings and input from concerned citizens, the asphalt plant proposed to be located just off Groton Road near Route 3 was handed another setback on Wednesday night, this time by the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Both a variance to allow an additional non-conforming principal use and a special permit to extend the current non-conforming principal uses of 20 Commerce Way, better known as the location of Newport Materials, failed by 3-2 votes.
Newport attorney Douglas Deschenes indicated that his client had an undue hardship that could be remedied by the variance or the special permit, noting that the proposed site had been used for industrial purposes for over a hundred years.
Deschenes told the board this was the first time he was forced to pursue a variance on a Major Commercial Project due to a remand decision from the Massachusetts Land Court on the site’s applications advising that a variance should be pursued under Westford’s zoning bylaws.
He also said that due to the size of the site and its history, the proposed plant would not have any impact on property values of nearby homes.
This claim was challenged by multiple residents, some of which indicated that they would move if permission was granted for the plant to be built.
Residents also challenged claims that property values would not be indicated, with Wendy Welsh of Edwards Avenue estimating that Westford could lose $75.6 million in property value, comparable to an example from North Carolina in the mid-1990s.
There were also various comments from residents about asthma risks at nearby schools and how the plant would not benefit the town, unlike other Major Commercial Projects brought to the board by Deschenes’ clients, such as Cornerstone Square.
“You’re not worried about our (hardships), we’re not worried about yours,” said Lee Moore of Russell’s Way.
Throughout the evening the audience clapped despite requests from town staff and the board not to do so, with Deschenes and Newport Materials Owner Richard DiFelice questioning statements made by some of the residents.
Deschenes also dismissed the asthma claims as opinion in comparison to studies Newport had submitted that had been peer reviewed by the town.
He also challenged the notion posed residents that the wording of the zoning bylaw did not support an asphalt plant at that location, just as it does not allow drive-thru restaurants.
“We don’t allow drive-thrus, we do allow light manufacturing,” he said. “That’s not my choice, that’s the Town of Westford’s choice.”
Jay Enis, Paul MacMillan and Scott Fitzgerald voted against the two petitions while Scott MacKay and Robert Hermann voted for them.
Participating in the meeting remotely, Hermann told made a statement in support of the proposed plant prior to his vote, noting that the issue was controversial.
“I would respectfully disagree that property values will drop down. That area of town is not a residential area,” he said. “That is the place for that particular operation.”
Newport received a sound variance by a vote of 4-1, allowing them to forego construction of a sound attenuating wall on the site’s western border that could cost up to $1 million according to Deschenes. MacMillan voted in the minority.