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
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