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Planning Board Signs Off On Commerce Way Warehouse Project

The Planning Board met last night, with the main agenda item hearing from proponents as well as residents concerned about the 30 Commerce Way project.

Before jumping into that, Doug Lees of Land Engineering & Environmental Services expected a quick signoff on the as-built plan for the Honda dealership at 150 Main St. He instead found out that Planning Board members often drive by ongoing projects.

Lees brought a letter from the town engineer stating that all requirements have been met. But board vice-chair Bob Fowler challenged that, calling out a lack of required plantings on the driveway island. 

After an exchange reminiscent of the famous “who’s on first” routine but about plants, board member Jim Duffy motioned to accept the as-built contingent on a revised plan showing the full plantings being presented before the $20,000 bond is released. That passed unanimously.

30 Commerce Way project continues to concern residents. The site, shown above, is zoned industrial and is slated for an 87,000 s.f. “industrial flex” building on about 12 acres behind the existing building, with about 60 employees. It was first proposed in the spring. New this meeting are additional vegetation, completion of most town engineer and Conservation Commission comments and signoffs by Tewksbury Fire. 

Trull Rd. and Old Main St. residents remain concerned about truck traffic impacting their neighborhoods and the safety factor for children and walkers in the area, given the tight turns, lack of sidewalks and current heavy traffic from cars waiting to merge onto Rt. 38. 

The proponents stated that they expect most deliveries to come from Rt. 495 via Old Main St., but residents counter that Rt. 93 to Rt. 133 to Trull is also likely to be a popular route, and that neither road is wide enough for heavy truck traffic. 

Dennis Flynn of Beta Group, which was retained by the town to perform a peer review of the traffic impact assessment, said his firm found all responses “to be acceptable and satisfactorily addressed our concerns.” Further, over a five-year period from 2017 to 2021, there were zero accidents reported in the area involving tractor trailers. 

Jim Lewis of 10 Barker Rd. summarized resident concerns. 

“With no sidewalks, pedestrians are unsafe,” said Lewis. “Speed is 25 miles an hour. That’s more of a suggestion.” He said trucks “fly” down the road and cited the hairpin turn at Old Main.

“We have kids in the neighborhood again, and they’re standing on the corner waiting for a bus and who knows what’s coming along and how fast,” he said.  

Fowler suggested that the town could petition Mass DOT to designate no right turns on Old Main St. for trucks, so that these vehicles are directed to exit from 495. 

“There are logistical concerns in the area but those exist, regardless of this project,” said board chair Stephen Johnson. “We just had two different traffic engineers go through, explaining that, you know, the process works if the process is followed correctly.”

Ultimately the board voted unanimously to grant the required waivers and land disturbance and site plan special permits, with conditions laid out by the planning department.

Wamesit will add parking and storage. After negotiating to lease the old rail bed in the rear of the building, Wamesit proposes to create 44 new paved employee parking spaces and an accessory storage building, along with snow storage. The new parking area is meant to free up spaces for patrons, and public access will be prohibited. Dick Cuoco addressed concerns from Tewksbury Florist & Greenery to the owner’s satisfaction. Duffy requested that Warmest add a bike rack for employees. The matter was continued to Oct. 17.

Warehouse project shrinks. Next up, 3, 3R, 4 Executive Place on Burtt Rd., which has been in the works since 2020. One warehouse was reduced in size from 177,225 to 167,610 square feet, with 1,000 s.f. of that reduction within Tewksbury, and increased to 44.5 feet in height, while a second warehouse was eliminated. There are no potential tenants at this time, and completion is expected in about a year. The site plan was approved unanimously.

Wood Haven project gets warm welcome. Sawyer Realty Holdings has purchased the Wood Haven assisted living facility, located at 2580 Main St., and intends to convert the facility into 58 units of 55+ age restricted apartments. The company does not plan any changes to the site footprint, drainage, stormwater or parking. It also does not expect any traffic impact greater than when the facility was used as a 78-bed memory care facility. The company expects to have three or so staff on site daily, and pickleball and shuffleboard courts are planned, along with bike racks and community areas that can be rented for parties.

A motion to approve was unanimous.

821 Main St. is still too dense. James Hanley of Civil Design Consultants got a less enthusiastic response for the return of a crowded townhouse/commercial proposal for the former French’s property, which is 30,000 s.f. commercially zoned. The board previously called out insufficient parking and “way too many units” crammed into the lot. This is one of the projects that “froze” zoning under the old bylaw.

“Every site has challenges,” said Hanley. “This site is no exception.” 

Per the board, these challenges include a lack of parking, a single entrance off Main St. and more of the small — and difficult to rent — ground-floor commercial units that already proliferate on Rt. 38.

Johnson suggested eliminating the commercial units, running the numbers and bringing a new concept back for review.

“I don’t have a problem with doing away with this commercial because we have so many units in town now that are unoccupied,” said board member Vinny Fratalia.

Changes may be in the works for as-built compliance. In her report, community/economic development planner Alexandra Lowder suggested the town move to spend the available funding collected as fee in lieu of sidewalks.

“The money has been sitting there for a few years,” said Lowder. “Better put to use on a project than sitting in the bank.” 

The board concurred, with Fratalia recommending investments on sidewalks along Main St. from Livingston to the Post Office. 

Lowder also suggested that the board consider replacing as-built bonds and tying compliance to issuing an occupancy permit, another recommendation met with interest. 

“At $10,000, when they have these multimillion-dollar projects, it’s probably very easy to be like, ‘I don’t feel like complying with the as-built,’” she said. Based on her research, other comparable towns use more stringent methods to ensure compliance.

“Once it’s understood that if you want your occupancy permit you’re going to need your as builts, then a developer’s more likely to do those as builts as the project progresses,” said Duffy. “And that’s what we’re after.”

Finally, Lowder reminded residents that this coming Friday, the proposed retail marijuana facility will hold a required community meeting. She also reminded residents about the Fall Festival this weekend from noon to 5 p.m. both days and said there is an open house at the new Center Fire Station on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Lorna is a U.S. Army veteran and 25-year resident of Tewksbury who has written for organizations ranging from the DIA to InformationWeek to a free weekly in New London that sent her to interview the pastry chef at Foxwoods.

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