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7 Takeaways from the May 8 Tewksbury Planning Board Meeting

Another retail marijuana site plan is approved, this one for 1 Main St.

The Planning Board met last night with all members in attendance. There were no committee reports from members.

In her report, Town Planner Alex Lowder said that the 2023-2027 Housing Production Plan presentation will be delayed until June 12 as the town works with NMCOG to finalize action items and strategies. 

There are two new public hearings scheduled for the May 22 meeting, both in relation to proposed retail marijuana establishments. The locations are 913 East St., from Carnation Cannabis (no relation), and 1695 Shawsheen St., next to Luna Rossa Plaza. There are now two options on the table for that currently wooded lot: An entirely new retail proposal, to be presented, or parking for employees of Keri Plaza to accommodate a dispensary next to Luna Rossa. 

“This new application is for it to be a standalone establishment with all onsite parking and amenities for 1695 itself,” said Lowder.

The 913 East St. parcel is zoned heavy industrial and currently houses ZP Marble and Granite and D&G Landscaping. The Carnation Cannabis group held one public meeting, on Dec. 14.

Lowder noted that all applicants looking to be included in the first round of Select Board hearings must have plans submitted to her office no later than May 11.

Finally, all proposed bylaw changes relating to signage, industrial principal buildings, definitions and mixed-use developments received endorsements from Annual Town Meeting on Wednesday, May 3. They take effect immediately but are pending final approval from the Attorney General’s office. 

“Any permits issued before that approval is officially received will be deemed at risk,” said Lowder, so those interested in taking advantage of changes should be patient.

Next, Michael Shelter and associates appeared for Ecogy Energy, which is looking to construct a 933 kilowatt AC solar canopy and a 1300 kilowatt hour battery storage system at 2 Radcliff Road, on the Thermo Fisher Scientific campus. The project is expected to result in an approximately 15% reduction in on-site peak demand. It utilizes an already developed impervious surface within the office research zone. As with the approved energy storage facility on South St., the main hazard is the lithium-ion batteries in the storage arrays. There are leakage sensors to detect any chemicals.

At the board’s March 27, member Vinny Fratalia asked for a rendering of the project and insights about any hazardous materials that will be on the site. Shelter provided safety information from Tesla, which produces the batteries. In fact, Tesla posted record-high sales of energy storage in the first quarter of this year. According to its Q123 earnings call, it sold $1.53 billion in combined solar and storage systems.

However, Fratalia and other board members criticized Ecogy for the lateness of its packet for tonight’s meeting — it arrived late yesterday afternoon — and for not proactively speaking with Tewksbury Fire.

“I know you haven’t talked to the fire department at all,” said Fratalia, who noted he had been in contact earlier that day. “Can you tell me why? They’re the experts in this field, as far as we’re concerned. We rely on them for all of the documentation.” 

Shelter said his understanding is that the company would connect with TFD after being cleared by the Planning Board and added that he would immediately reach out.

At the March meeting, Chair Stephen Johnson had asked the company to restore some of the trees slated to be removed. Shelter said the company would need to cut down 11 trees and would donate to a fund to plant replacement trees elsewhere in town.

“Are you suggesting that you want to just eliminate the trees and do something in lieu of?” asked member Jim Duffy. 

Shelter cited a lack of space to plant new trees and said Ecogy would prefer to plant native shrubbery. Duffy asked for renderings of proposed substitutions for trees and also pressed the proponents on the timeline to commission the project, given that the batteries are manufactured overseas and can take 30 to 50 weeks to be delivered. 

There is currently no fee in lieu fund for trees, so shrubs seem the most likely option. The hearing was continued to May 22, with a request to get materials in earlier.

The board next heard from attorney David Plunkett, Matt Hammer of LandPlex Engineering and Ken Kram of Bayside Engineering for the proposed retail marijuana dispensary at 1 Main St., the currently vacant Simon’s Service Center, an approximately 1,500 sf building directly across from the entrance to Stadium Plaza. The owners of Full Harvest Moonz, which has locations in Lowell and Haverhill, have a long-term lease on the property with an option to purchase. 

This hearing was continued from March 15, and Plunkett said that after some discussion with the town engineers, he believes all issues are ironed out.

Hammer walked the board through some plan updates, including a one-way traffic flow around the building, relocation of the bike storage area to the rear, new walkways and additional striping for safety.

Kram, a traffic engineer, said most of the peer reviewer’s comments have been addressed. Remaining items of significance relate to the process of getting MassDOT approval, which can take weeks. As Rt. 38 is a state road, MassDOT is responsible for traffic signaling and curb cuts.

Duffy confirmed that it will be a right-turn only out of the lot. Despite some outstanding conditions, the board closed the public hearing and unanimously approved waivers requested by the applicants and the site plan review, sending the project on to the Select Board.

The board also unanimously signed off on a special permit for an electronic message center sign at the Tewksbury Youth Baseball fields at East St. 

John Peterson of Metro Sign and Awning appeared along with Brian Schofield and Wayne Frietag of the Tewksbury Youth Baseball League. Schofoeld said the organization has issues with registrations being returned on time, and he expects the sign to improve communication.

“This would help tremendously,” he said. “We host a lot of tournaments, it would provide a lot of information on when those dates are and on sponsorships as well.” 

Peterson said the new sign will be roughly the same size as the current sign. The base of the sign will be seven feet from the ground, and the location was moved slightly for improved visibility.

Picking up on the comment about promoting sponsors, Johnson retained the town’s right to revisit the permit if the messaging shifts away from the planned use of posting League information, like dates and team standings.

“Say it’s now talking about, you know, one of the car dealerships down the road because they bought space on the board,” said Johnson. “That is not okay.”

Member Jonathan Ciampa called the electronic sign “out of context with the area” but said he understands the need for better communication with parents, while new member Nick Lizotte clarified that the sponsor names would be permanently on the sign top banner, not in the message space.

Under new business, Fratalia asked that the town get the as-builts for several new developments moving in an expedited way so that the situation with Grammy’s Way and Border Rd. is not repeated. In both cases, to have those streets accepted at Town Meeting, the board ended up rushing the approval process.

Finally, Duffy asked Lowder to — again — follow up on a promised cut sheet on the mature sycamore tree that is to be planted in town center to replace one cut down without authorization. This is not the first reminder; he first asked for that document at the March 14 meeting. 

“I’m a little miffed that that keeps getting ignored,” said Duffy.

Fratalia pushed back that Plunkett and developer John Sullivan are frequently in front of the Planning Board.

“I don’t think they’re going to be running out of town and not giving us cut sheets or not doing the tree like they proposed,” said Fratalia. 

In fact, at the Feb. 14 meeting, Lowder asked Plunkett to submit confirmatory documentation on the tree size and the revised landscape plan, a request repeated several times by Duffy, who pointed out that frequency of appearance is not the point.

“They agreed to provide it and then didn’t,” said Duffy. “It’s 10 minutes’ work for somebody to get a cut sheet from an arborist that explains what they’re going to do. And it’s just a little bit disingenuous on their part, I believe, to not have come forth with a written document … to back up what they said at the meeting.”

Or, in the words of the Gipper, “Trust, but verify.”

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.

One Comment

  1. George Ferdinand George Ferdinand May 9, 2023

    I’m very proud of many of the comments from member James Duffy during this meeting

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