The writer of last week’s Guest Editorial (“Changes are an ‘Opportunity’”) failed to disclose that proposed zoning bylaw changes in Boxborough are designed to allow a single developer to build over one million square feet of warehouses, a footprint larger than ten city blocks.
We join a growing number of Boxborough citizens who share one interest: to convince our Planning Board to withdraw their proposal from Annual Town Meeting (ATM) until the Board has initiated outside, impartial, professional studies to reveal how warehouses will affect the Town’s safety and quality of life.
The Planning Board should learn what kind of warehouses the developer (Lincoln Properties) plans to build. One million square feet of High Cube warehouse space could bring an additional 10,000 vehicle trips per day to our roads, often 24/7. Are other kinds of warehouses less intrusive? The Board needs to find out.
The Planning Board has dropped special permitting for warehouses as large as 200,000 square feet; one warehouse that size covers more than 16 times the footprint of Boxborough’s Sargent Library. The Board is giving Lincoln free rein to build as many such warehouses as will fit on 50% of the 218 acres it owns near Route 495. Four warehouses? Six? More? The Board needs to find out.
The Planning Board needs to study how warehouse trucking to and from Boston will impact traffic and safety on local roads and Route 111, our winding, two-lane State road. The Board also needs to ask our own Police and Fire Departments, the Town Safety Committee, and the State Highway Department how to handle warehouse trucking. And if our Acton neighbors object to heavier trucking in their section of Route 111, our Planning Board should find out now rather than to wait for surprises.
The Board also needs professional help to know whether warehouses, acres of blacktop, and diesel fuel and fumes might create water, air, light, and noise pollution, and if so, what mitigation might work.
By rushing to cut zoning restrictions in order to satisfy one developer, the Planning Board has applied the same bylaw changes to an additional 152 acres owned by others. Without restrictions, will those owners add even more warehouses to overtaxed roads? The Board should find out.
Boxborough does need to expand its commercial tax base, and huge warehouses would certainly do so. And we do welcome Lincoln’s offer to give Boxborough land for a new Fire Station.
While we would also love to see a Village Green, restaurant, coffee shop, and other retailers, these look like attractions Lincoln and last week’s editorial writer are using to hide their warehouses. Will Lincoln work hard to attract compatible retailers such as those it took years to bring to VillageWorks in West Acton? At three public presentations, Lincoln has simply proposed to “build one 10,000 square foot building and see what happens.”
To create time to investigate the impact of warehouses on Boxborough, the Planning Board should withdraw its ATM proposal, a proposal that requires a two-thirds majority for approval. After the Board gets outside, professional, verifiable answers to obvious questions, and after the Board creates zoning changes to protect the Town, the Board should call a Special Town Meeting. Then, and only then, will Town voters be ready to make well-informed decisions. If the Board does not take time to perform due diligence, Townspeople have no choice but to vote to disapprove the Board’s current proposal.
Mark Barbadoro, Scott Bundy, Hugh Fortmiller, Janet Glidden, Jeff Glidden, Richard Hilton, Jeanne Kangas, Diana Lipari, Kathy Luce, Francie Nolde, Barbara Salzman, Steve Schmitt, Lisa St. Amand, Mark White
I write in response to Tim Rudolph’s op-ed regarding proposed changes to Boxborough’s zoning bylaws. These changes are possibly the most significant Boxborough has ever contemplated, yet there has been little, if any, consideration of the consequences. The rush to act now and think later is epic and troubling.
I agree we need zoning changes. Office park zoning is no longer viable. We need to increase the tax base. However, it does not follow that just any increase in business is a good increase in business.
The proposal from Lincoln Properties includes one million plus square feet (SF) of distribution warehouse space. Let’s consider the balance sheet. On one side, the proponents dangle the benefits: increased taxes and amenities. The proposal promises $1.2 million in new taxes. The “Village Green” amenities approximate 10,000 SF of residential, restaurant, galleries, retail. So, 1% for amenities and 99% for warehouse(s). What’s more, nothing is guaranteed.
On the other side, the costs have not been studied. Traffic impact will be significant. The potential for an additional 10,635 trips each day; tractor trailer, small truck and autos. How many trips would be on Rte. 111 with what impact to Boxborough, West Acton and Kelly’s Corner? There are environmental costs: water, sound, air and light pollution. The impact may be 24/7.
Rudolph name-calls. He alleges “disinformation” but gives no specifics. He never mentions warehouses. He calls those of us who raise questions “narrow interests”, but our concerns are Boxborough’s interests.
Rudolph speaks of “… repetition vs recommendations”. Isn’t it OK to ask a question until you get an answer? Isn’t it the Planning Board’s job, not ours, to do research, uncover facts then make the recommendations?
A few questions for the Town and Mr. Rudolph: What increase in traffic will the warehouses bring? What increases in Town costs (police, fire, traffic control)? What about the environmental costs? Why should we approve this first and ask questions later?
Rudolph charges “The propaganda of fear is not a plan.” This is Boxborough not Washington. Providing answers could lead us to a plan; attacks against us will not. All we ask is that the responsible Town officials research the matter and inform the Town so we know the benefits, the costs and their consequences well before we are asked to vote.
Mark White, Candidate for Planning Board
After a number of years, I came back to town government, because of inaccuracies related to town center. Saving our town center was a just cause. To my surprise, it was disappointing that a small number of people previously voicing legitimate concerns on town center had turned to disinformation regarding needed changes in office parks. By the time many will see this, we will know if people in Boxborough acted constructively at an important Boxborough Planning Board Public Hearing on March 11nth. We have a tremendous opportunity in Boxborough to increase business and shift the tax base away from residents. We have the opportunity for amenities that will benefit all town residents, e.g., restaurant, coffee shop, a village green, and conservation trail access, and a gift of land for municipal purposes. Unfortunately, despite multiple public meetings across many dedicated boards and committees, narrow interests prefer raising the same issues repeatedly instead of providing feedback for improvement.
Some history. Changes in connectivity, a distributed workforce, different business models, and the pace of innovation show fundamental shifts in commerce. Using occupancy data (49 percent) and participating in metro-west planning, it is clear that the Office Park district in our bylaws require flexible use or will become a relic of empty space with declining tax revenues for Boxborough.
To be proactive, the Select Board reestablished the Boxborough Economic Development Committee in 2017. The goals are part of the community-defined Boxborough 2030 Master Plan, creating a long-term vision for the town's commercial areas, prioritizing enhanced quality of life across an expanding the commercial tax base, investigating potential zoning amendments, and catalyzing investment and public-private partnerships to stimulate commercial activity.
After a number of months looking at our shrinking business base and slow speed of permit ting, the EDC was already working on zoning changes when a property owner came to a public meeting interested in making their land more usable, increasing occupancy, and providing amenities to prospective lessors and available to residents. To keep Boxborough competitive, many suggestions made sense. Still, the EDC cut down many recommended "by right" categories (all still subject to site plan review), included design review as part of the process in keeping with the town's rural character, and provided inputs to the Planning Board in November 2018.
Through feedback from additional open meetings and public hearings, the Planning Board significantly scaled back the proposed redefinition of the Office Park even further, to a much smaller overlay district and with even fewer by-right uses, sizing limitations, and the elimination of separate residential uses.
Doing "something better" requires constructive feedback. Doing nothing is a prescription for rapidly emptying office park buildings, dark buildings with significant abatements, and shifting higher taxes to residents, including those on fixed incomes and with limited means. Emotion vs facts and repetition vs recommendations is not progress. The propaganda of fear is not a plan. We all want good warrant articles for the town, but good articles require solutions and suggestions.
Public hearings are an opportunity for feedback to be incorporated into the warrant articles before Town Meeting or demonstrate the need for more changes. Let's hope the narrow interests take advantage of the hearing to collaborate and offer improvements and do not sabotage the benefits to all residents. Through balanced multi-use flexibility Boxborough can realize a gift of additional public land, increased commercial revenues, and usage benefits for the residents, all in character with the town.
Tim Rudolph is chairman of the Boxborough Economic Development Committee
My husband and I live at Old Frog Pond Farm on Eldridge Road in Harvard, but our organic apple orchard is in Boxborough. We were only recently told by a neighbor about a proposed zoning change overlay district in Boxborough that will change the zoning of our farm as well as adversely affect our neighbors in Harvard, Boxborough and Acton.
The proposed overlay district comprises 371 acres (1414 Massachusetts Avenue (Route 111) down to Eldridge Road and two small parcels west of route 495 abutting Harvard) and will enable the Lincoln Property Company to build four warehouses, 1,020,000 square feet, about the size of 35 Walmarts (!) in exchange for land for a new fire station and future tax revenues. These four buildings would cover 23 acres of forested land. They are giant ‘cubes’.
The truck traffic estimate for this amount of warehouse space is said to be up to 10,000 18 wheelers per day. The proposed bylaw allows development of up to 50% of the acreage, some of it without a special permit. Meanwhile, office buildings and business areas are empty in Boxborough. Tax revenue is an important consideration for all of our communities, but preserving our towns’ peaceful nature, its farmland, wildlife, clean water and night sky -- are equally important.
Elizabeth Brook feeds the large wetlands area that flows around our orchard, and into the 500 acres of Delaney Conservation area. In the last two weeks we have had two sightings of a bald eagle flying over the orchard and Elizabeth Brook wetlands. This proposed development would massively disturb this fragile ecosystem.
Many Boxborough residents heard for the first time about the proposed changes to their bylaw only recently. There were hearing notices in tiny print in this newspaper, but there were no detailed articles. This is all happening too fast without sufficient, informed community input. We urge residents Boxborough to be informed and Acton residents to ask Boxborough friends if they are aware of this potential development in their town.
We have zoning by-laws so our towns can thoughtfully consider development. All of our towns face similar pressures. Let us choose wisely.
Linda Hoffman & Blase Provitola
Boxborough Friends: Tonight at 7:30 the Planning Board is having a public hearing about zoning changes on Rt. 111 near 495. The proposed changes allow for more flexibility in development. The developers are looking to add a town green, restaurants, light manufacturing, a small warehouse, and some retail space. The tax revenue for the town would be significant (over a million dollars a year at build out). The town is facing many large expenditures in the next several years: a new fire station, new schools at the region, potential farm land currently in chapter, and a renovated or new police station. We need to start looking for ways to start generating revenue to offset some of these expenses or our tax bills will go through the roof. At the last public hearing on this, the planning board heard from people who said "raise our taxes, we don't want any development". Most of those people don't need to worry about getting children to bed, homework, or apparently money. The Planning Board is not hearing from the families in town, mostly just some, but not all of our seniors (I am one of the seniors who wants this proposed zoning change). If you feel strongly about keeping economic diversity in town, would like some of the proposed amenities, and would like to help increase our tax revenue it would be great if you could attend tonight's meeting. I have sat on enough boards over the years to know you usually only hear from people when they are unhappy, let's let the Planning Board know we think this is a good idea!
Thanks in advance,