The proposed asphalt plant to be located just off Groton Road near Route 3 was dealt a significant blow on Wednesday night after failing to obtain either a special permit or a variance likely required to move forward.
Both the special permit and the variance addressed a new non-conforming principal use for the land where the plant is proposed by Newport Materials on Commercial Way, just west of the Westford/Chelmsford border along Groton Road.
On the special permit, the Zoning Board voted 3-2, with Jay Ennis and Paul MacMillan voting in opposition. For the variance, the board also voted 3-2, with MacMillan and Scott Fitzgerald casting opposing votes. However, both for measures, a supermajority of four votes was required.
The votes came after a lengthy discussion between Westford Town Planner Jeff Morrissette and Newport Materials Attorney Douglas Deschenes over nuances in the proposals, as well as a string of public testimony from neighbors that continued even after the time for public comment was closed.
Frustration arising among the approximately 50 to 60 members of the audience in the Town Hall Meeting Room and the adjacent overflow hallway ranged from fears over additional traffic flow on Groton Road during rush hours to concerns regarding the product that would mitigate smells coming from the plant.
That product, called Ecosorb, was a red flag in itself for Betty Lane Resident Alisa Nakashian-Holsberg. For her, the fact that it was being mentioned was evidence that the plant did not truly meet the definition of a “light industrial” use, a definition that was at the core of the Land Court’s appeal ruling in favor of Newport several months ago.
“I have some concerns that Ecosorb will mask an odor that will alert me if there is danger,” she said. “The suggestion that the applicant wants to use Ecosorb to hide the smell of hydrogen sulfide is proof that this is not a light manufacturing use.”
This claim and others by residents was challenged by Deschenes, who compared the product to common household items that can cause health impacts if used improperly, such as Febreze.
“We’re voluntarily offering to do this and apparently no good deed goes unpunished,” he said. “The fact that we’re offering to do this is no evidence that we’re trying to hide something.”
A third decision by the board regarding a variance to waive “quietness” requirements on the western border of the site was approved 5-0.
That requirement is defined under town bylaws as part of requirements for a light industrial use, but was specified by Land Court Judge Alexander Sands as either 70 decibels or 10 decibels above ambient sound, whichever is quieter.
At the western border of the site, which is adjacent to Fletcher’s Quarry, that ambient sound was measured at 43 decibels.
That would mean a maximum level of 53 decibels would be allowed, although Deschenes said the expected decibel level from the plant would raise sound in that area to 75 decibels, a figure that would still be lower than recorded figures at the quarry.
CORRECTION – 3:10 p.m. 3/18 – Paul MacMillan voted against both the special permit and the variance. Scott Fitzgerald voted against the variance only, Jay Enis voted against the special permit only.