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Maple Street Warehouse Complex Downsized, 24/7 Operations Sought

Jan 06, 2017 01:59PM ● Published by Pamela Johnson

Proposed warehouse complex with changes shown in red.

 Maple Street was once a quiet, scenic road. In fact, the actual designation “scenic road” was applied for by Bellingham’s Master Plan Committee, perhaps with the intention of protecting that small-town country road from future development. Although designation was granted, it doesn’t do much more than establish a formula for the replication (replacement) of any trees or stone walls removed during construction and sound/noise limits. Since that area is zoned for industrial development, the effort to preserve Maple Street is more complicated than a simple “scenic road” designation.

The transition began with the power plant that was built in 2002. More recently, residents mourned the loss of the historic Ma Glockner’s Restaurant, a property that was razed and reduced to a landscaper’s parking lot. Since then, nearby wooded lots have been cleared, the trees replaced with mountains of smoldering wood chips that are noisily spewed from chippers, much to the dismay of the local residents.
 
Then came Victory Packaging, a whopping 250,000 sq. ft. warehouse facility. A barrier consisting of a mound of soil was built up between the building and Maple Street, upon which grass and shrubs were planted in an effort to try to minimize the impact that the huge industrial structure has on Maple Street.

Now the parcel of land at 160 High St., which consists of approximately 86.9 acres and is bordered by Maple Street to the east, High Street to the south, the Charles River to the west and Rte. 495 to the north, is in the spotlight once again. In 2001, EMC proposed, but never followed through with, a research and development facility. Then, in 2008, a 268,020 sq. ft. indoor athletic complex with additional soccer fields, batting cages, etc., was proposed, which also included a provision for a 180,000 sq. ft. industrial building on the property. That project had been fully permitted by the town but was never constructed.

The plan for this parcel of land, presented in November 2015, was for a warehouse complex. Originally, developer (or “applicant” to the Planning Board) Campanelli Companies proposed that the 86.9 acres be divided into 2 lots and developed into 900,000 sq. ft. of warehouse space, one building 600,000 sq. ft. and the other 300,000 sq. ft.
 
By September 2016, as a result of comments and feedback from residents, the Conservation Commission and Planning Board, and work sessions with the town, the developer had scaled back to 750,000 sq. ft. total warehouse space; at the end of October, the size was reduced again to 700,000 sq. ft. According to Campanelli, besides the obvious reduction in building size, there would be a reduction in parking/impervious area and stormwater runoff, traffic, noise, and vegetation removal/replication.
 
At Bulletin deadline, the plan was for four buildings—two at approximately 250,000 sq. ft. (the size of Victory Packaging), one at 127,000 sq. ft. (11,000 sq. ft. larger than  Walmart, which is roughly 116,000 sq. ft.) and one at 70,000 sq. ft. Then, on Dec. 22, the Bulletin learned that the developer was planning to propose yet another reduction in project size at that night’s Planning Board meeting, to 477,500 sq. ft., (47% smaller than their original 900,000 sq. ft. and 32% less than their most recent 700,000 sq. ft. plan, which would resulting in increased buffer zones and reduced (by 9 acres) impervious area. The latest plan also eliminates the need for a second entrance on Maple St.

The impact of a development of 477,500  sq. ft. on wetlands, traffic, noise, stormwater management, Maple Street and the surrounding neighborhoods would be proportionally lessened. Several special permits are required, including Development Plan Approval, Stormwater Management Permit, Scenic Road Permit, Major Business Complex Permit and Flexible Parking Options Special Permit. (Updated impact figures were not available at the Dec. 22 meeting.)

The 700,000 sq. ft. project plan has been extensively reviewed by members of the Planning Board and peer review engineers hired by the town (at the applicant’s expense), as well as the Conservation Commission and the state Historical Commission (the remains of a historical homestead are located on the land). Specific determinations and conditions were identified based on the 700,000 sq. ft. plan that would have to be met in order for the developer to obtain final approval for the required permits.

At the Planning Board’s Dec. 8 meeting, the Board had conducted a step-by-step review of each of these determinations and conditions (a draft of that document can be found at http://www.bellinghamma.org/Pages/BellinghamMA_Planning by clicking on “160 High Street Lot 1 & 2–Proposed Project Docs” and then “Determinations and Conditions DRAFT-12.6.16.”  In fact, all documentation related to this project, from its inception to the present, including the latest reduced size proposal is posted here).

According to the Determinations and Conditions Draft (D & C draft), the developer was found to be in compliance with town bylaws in the following areas: light and glare; air quality; hazardous materials (currently, no hazardous materials are proposed to be used or stored on site, but any tenant wanting to use or store hazardous materials would be required to seek relief from the Special Permit Granting Authority); vibration; electrical disturbance, and stormwater management (a 6-ft. chain link fence with 8-foot wide gate around each detention basin is required). Further, detailed sound analysis, reviewed by the town’s peer consultant, demonstrates compliance with the noise provisions of both the zoning and scenic road bylaws.
The developer has proposed several strategies to mitigate the impact on traffic, including mandating that trucks make a right turn out of the complex, which benefits residents to the north, but not those owning property to the south of the complex. And while trucks must turn right, other vehicles will be directed to turn both right and left to vary traffic levels.

Anyone who regularly travels through the intersection at Maple Street and Rte. 140 recognizes that the intersection is hazardous or “underperforming”; because of the road width and angles, tractor trailers have a great deal of trouble negotiating turns there. Plus the Planning Board has determined that the intersection would not be able to safely accommodate the additional truck traffic that this project would generate, so the developer has agreed to contribute $1 million to the reconstruction of this intersection. (The town would have to come up with the other $800,000 of the estimated $1.8 million price tag). 

A traffic report produced by Vanasse and Associates, Inc. and reviewed by town’s peer review, Beta Engineering, projected peak-hour traffic would increase in the study area by 25% or more above presently anticipated levels once the buildings are occupied. According to the D & C draft, the Planning Board has determined that the traffic mitigation measures proposed by the applicant and required under the Special Permit, including traffic islands, widening of Maple Street at the south entry, speed check signs, widening of Maple Street at the north entry, and improvements to the Route 140/Maple Street intersection, will adequately provide for capacity and safety improvements—even before the latest proposed reduction in size.

According to the DPW, there is adequate capacity in the town’s water supply and other public services to accommodate the complex. Sanitary wastewater will be managed on-site in accordance with Title 5, and a Sewage Disposal Construction Permit will be sought from the Board of Health for each on-site wastewater disposal system.

Wetlands, the Charles River, and the historical homestead on the land must all be protected by specified buffer zones. Any wetlands that are disturbed must be replicated nearby. The meadow on the corner of High and Maple streets has been designated a “wet meadow” by the Conservation Commission and must remain undisturbed.
 
According to the D & C draft based on the 700,000 sq. ft. proposal, before any building on the premises could be occupied, the developer must: provide $10,000 to the town for two permanent speed-check signs for use on Maple Street; provide $50,000 to the town as payment in lieu of services for Maple Street paving improvements north of the site, before the Rte. 495 bridge; complete the widening and reconstruction of Maple Street between High Street and a point between the two site driveways; include a raised island at the south driveway; and complete all landscaping proposed at that entrance. The $1 million for the intersection reconstruction must be held in an escrow account as payment to the town in lieu of services. (These mitigation requirements will undougtedly change because of the change in project size; the figures weren't yet available.)
 
“Resident input has already shaped this project significantly in terms of downsizing, ensuring protections for wetlands resources and the Charles River, identifying the appropriate types of tenants they’d like to see go in, etc.,” Kupfer had said prior to the Dec. 22 meeting. “To date the Planning Board has done an exceptional job trying to balance the residents’ concerns with their legal obligation to the review of this historic project.”

During the public segment, while they acknowledged the developer’s willingness to reduce the project size, the residents present at the Dec. 22 meeting made it clear that they still do not want this development in their neighborhood.
 
According to resident Jim Dunlea: “Although the developer has agreed to decrease the facility size under the auspices of ‘addressing the concerns of the neighborhood,’ what remains is still nearly a 1/2-million sq. ft. facility with 24/7 operations, in a residential area, on designated scenic roads. The hours of operation that Spears (Campanelli’s tenant for the 127,000 sq. ft. bldg.) has committed to [Mon-Fri, 8 am–5 pm and occasional Saturdays] are completely voluntary; they'll do whatever they need to do,” meaning the company can promise that they’ll only operate during those hours, but unless the Planning Board restricts the hours of operation, there is nothing to hold them to it.
 
“This building is sized to accommodate much more traffic than their studies show. Traffic generated by Victory Packaging is already 100% greater than projected,” said Dunlea. “Also, the traffic study ignored the intersection of Maple St. and Hartford Ave. Trucks may have to turn south, but cars will turn north and south. And High Street was completely ignored in the traffic study as if it doesn't even exist.”

Resident Lolly Viera’s number one concern is safety on High Street. She had been told at a previous meeting that representatives from the police and fire department would attend and address safety concerns, but neither was present. She also pointed out that there is no one to enforce the conditions established by the Planning Board when Victory Pkg. is in violation, so it would be no different with this project, which is being built by the same developer that built Victory Pkg.
 
“Traffic backs up 30-40 minutes now on an average day, so imagine if this is built,” Viera noted. “It’s just not safe for kids to ride their bikes, or for me to run.”

Doug Porter of Stonehedge Road felt as though the developer was using the same tactics that they had when building Victory Pkg. “They said at that time ‘our tenant will go south if we don’t get this approved now.’ and now they’re saying it again about this tenant and this project. And you talk about the additional tax revenue, but if this thing goes through it will canibalize our property values, so you’ll lose that tax revenue.”

A member of the town’s road committee pointed out that the improvements to the Maple St./Rte. 140 intersection will help to mitigate existing traffic, but won’t help the aditional traffic caused by this development.

Despite going through the proper procedure for submitting materials to present to the Planning Board, Chairman Brian Salisbury denied resident Qin Li’s  request to show a brief, 4-minute video that she’d filmed of another warehouse complex, comparable to the size being proposed; the road was widened to three lanes, and it was in an area with no residential homes and direct access to the highway.

Resident Ben Mahar said, “Reasonable people need to sleep 8 hours a night. If you allow 24/7 operations, people’s houses are going to lose value; they won’t be able to sell them.
Dunlea noted that a Planning Board member  had made the comment, “You should have known when you bought property in an industrially zoned area.” “Well the developer should have known not to buy in a residential setting,” said Dunles. “They had to know this was not going to be welcome.”

Joe Roche of Maple St. questioned the impact on the response times of emergency services (police & fire) with the additional traffic that will be generated by the warehouse complex. “An additional 5 minutes can literally mean life or death.” He also noted, “This area is already above average for accidents—what’s this [project] going to do to that?”

The lone proponent in the audience was Ed Gately of Pine Street. He said that he’s built a lot of the homes on Pine Street and elsewhere in town. “I’ve been watching that property for a long time. I was interested in turning it residential but nobody was interested. I’ve heard all of the negative, but I think this is a good plan.”
 
While the size is definitely a problem for abutters, the real sticking point seems to be the developer’s  insistence on unlimited hours of operation—not, they say, because their tenant {Spears Corp.) plans to operate 24/7, but because they want to have that option in case down the road they want to sell the building; they feel would be more difficult to sell if access was restricted to certain hours. The developer does not yet have tenants for the larger building, and they feel that restricted hours will make it more difficult for them to market the property.
The Board vacillated at length about the hours of operation, going from 24/7 access for the smaller (Spears) building but restricted access for the larger building, to unrestricted 24/7 access for both buildings.

Initially, Planning Board member Peter Pappas wanted 24/7 access only on lot #2, which is the larger building furthest from Maple Street; vice-chairman William O'Connell Jr. and recent board appointee Bruce Lord were clearly in favor of 24/7 access for both buildings as was member Dennis Trebino. Alternate member Nikyda “Nicky” Resto did not agree with 24/7 access for either building, especially since it is unknown who the tenants for the larger building would be.
(This was just a non-binding straw vote, but there was some discussion regarding Bruce Lord voting vs. the alternate member voting since he was appointed not elected to the board, but it devolved into “lawyerspeak” between Lord and Town Counsel Jay Talerman. It was quickly decided to resolve the matter outside of the meeting.)

Board Chairman Brian Salisbury summarized his position. “I like the reduced size of the project, and I’m concerned that if we lose this, something worse could come in. But I’m also concerned with people who have to sleep at night. I could live with a narrow band of time restricting deliveries, like midnight to 4 am, for example. I could live with not knowing who the exact tenants [besides Spears] will be. I put myself in their homes and I can hear the sound of the trucks. Could you go back to your tenant and tell them we’re just looking for 4-5 hours where deliveries would be restricted?”

Developer Rob DeMarco agreed to “float the idea” by his tenant, but did not think they would agree, and he was insistent on unrestricted 24/7 access for the larger building, too, emphasizing that they need it in order to successfully market the property.
 
By the end of the meeting, at Salisbury’s suggestion, DeMarco had agreed to further reduce the size of the larger building to 300,000 sq. ft., reposition it closer to the highway/west side of the property, and reduce number of the trailer spaces.

At the next meeting, slated for Jan. 12, at 7 p.m., Kupfer will have a draft decision for the Board to review and vote on. At that time the question of 24/7 operations will be decided.  
Regardless of what area of town you live in, if you drive on Maple and/or High Street, then this issue concerns you; you should attend the Jan. 12 meeting, and make your preference known to the Planning Board, whether it be yea or nay. 

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