Strong again seeking special permit after denials; board will conduct site visit on August 10
On Thursday, South St. and Fieldstone Circle residents and Tewksbury Select Board member Jayne Wellman attended the Andover Zoning Board of Appeals meeting to ask that board to continue to deny a special permit for a contractor yard currently operating at 1325 South St. despite a longstanding cease and desist order.
As background, in October 2021, Tewksbury officials first raised concerns about the lot, which is in Andover but accessible only via South St. and a residential area of Tewksbury. Tewksbury has declined to provide water or sewer services to the site, which is zoned IA, or Industrial A. That zoning designation addresses industrial lots adjacent to residential neighborhoods and states that “no nonresidential structure shall be erected nearer than 300 feet to the outside wall of any existing dwelling, regardless of the district in which the dwelling is situated, and whether or not a public or private way lies within the 300 feet.”
Contractor yards are not a by-right use in IA zones.
Some four acres of the 13-acre site immediately adjacent to Fieldstone Circle were clear cut of hundreds of mature pines and used to store construction materials, landscaping equipment, junk cars and other debris. Andover building commissioner Christopher Clemente found that the property was being operated as a contractors yard without the required Zoning Board of Appeals special permit. Based on that finding, Clemente issued a cease and desist letter and ordered the owner, Matthew Strong of Forever Endeavor, an LLC registered at 4 Rennie Dr., Andover, to remove all equipment, vehicles, construction and earth materials forthwith.
Strong did not comply with that order, instead asking the Andover Zoning Board of Appeals to overturn Clemente’s decision and issue a special permit to operate a contractors yard. In January 2022, the Andover ZBA voted unanimously to deny Strong’s request for a special permit and uphold the cease and desist order.
“This [tree removal] is a 50 year problem,” said member Ellen Keller at the time. The board also cited stormwater runoff and other environmental issues, given potential leakage of oil and chemicals and that the parcel is largely wetlands and abuts the Shawsheen River. The board ordered the lot cleared of equipment. Again, that did not happen. Instead, Strong appealed the decision and continued to operate. In the ensuing months, heavy trucks have traveled at sometimes high rates of speed up and down South St. at all hours, according to multiple residents.
Superior Court remanded the matter back to the ZBA, so on Thursday, Strong and his attorney, Peter Caruso of Andover, went before the board to once again ask for a special permit to operate the contractor’s yard. Caruso stated that Strong had met with the Andover Conservation Commission and planted “several rows of trees,” including arborvitae and maples. He also commissioned a traffic study, which stated that the yard would generate 26 additional daily trips during the week from 13 vehicles on South St., a heavily settled, narrow road without sidewalks. The ZBA reserved the right to have a peer review and also a sound study, since the vehicles in question are often trucks and trailers hauling heavy equipment.
Last week, Tewksbury Assistant Town Manager Steve Sadwick sent a letter to the ZBA laying out nine additional conditions being requested by the town, in addition to existing conditions that include no hazardous materials, junk cars or auto parts on the site; no work being done on site; paving portions of the site to reduce noise and vibration; no dumping; operations only Monday through Saturday 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and speed monitoring.
“It goes on and on and on,” said Caruso of the list of conditions.
Resident Laura Hulme, whose Fieldstone Circle home abuts the unpermitted yard, told the board that Strong has not only ignored its cease and desist order and many of those conditions but has expanded the lot and taken down additional trees.
“There are people working there all times of the day and night, including weekends and holidays,” said Hulme. “The noises coming from that lot are incredibly loud, to the point where my house shakes.”
She added that Strong frequently comes on her property without permission. She asked the board to deny the special permit.
The ordinance states that contractor yards may operate only from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., however, there is no gate or other entrance and exit control to ensure permissible hours are observed.
Resident Bob Lambert of South St. pointed out that the ZBA’s cease and desist order has never been enforced, said there are still many junk cars on the site and pointed out that paving could exacerbate the stormwater runoff problem.
“This is a seven-day-a-week, 365-day-a-year operation,” said Lambert, with vehicles arriving beginning at 4:45 a.m. and leaving as late as 10 p.m. “There is no control, there is no oversight.”
Fieldstone Circle resident Dina Castiglia said Strong regularly comes on her property as well and said that the town of Andover notified her that asbestos was being stored on the lot — an assertion that was confirmed by Strong after being disputed by Caruso.
“I have stress cracks in my house,” said Castiglia. “These are from the heavy equipment that come up and down a county road.”
Wellman addressed the ZBA as an advocate for the residents being affected.
“I stand here before you to lend weight to what they’re telling you,” she said, pointing out that contrary to what Strong’s counsel stated, there has “not been any real consistency with regard to the conditions that were previously agreed to.”
Given past flouting of conditions, Wellman stated that she has little confidence the situation will improve should Strong receive a permit.
“It isn’t incumbent upon you to give the applicant relief,” she said. “And I don’t think it is right to perpetuate this situation on the residents who have experienced such negativity, property value loss and quality of life impact. That’s going to continue. The loss of all those trees will not be fixed by maple trees.”
She encouraged the ZBA to deny the special permit.
The board asked for a sound level study that will be done without notice so there is no curtailment of traffic to the site and asked whether Strong would be open to revegetating more of the lot. ZBA Chair Elizabeth Oltman requested a letter from the Conservation Commission and scheduled a second site visit on August 10 at 6 p.m.
Oltman asked for those using the lot to not be warned of the visit; she also reserved the right to have a peer review of the traffic study. The hearing was continued to Sept. 7.
“Ignorance of the law is no excuse,” Lambert told the board, urging them to avoid sending a message to anyone who wishes a variance or special permit to simply ignore zoning. “Do what you want to do and ask for approval later.”