The Planning Board approved three of the four permits before them on Tuesday night, but that fourth one could prove pivotal in the latest chapter of the ongoing asphalt plant saga.
On Tuesday evening at the Blanchard School, the Planning Board denied a Major Commercial Project (MCP) special permit for the proposed asphalt plant to be located just off Groton Road.
Opposing the permit 4-1, members of the board expressed various concerns regarding the facility planned near Chelmsford border by Newport Materials, which currently operates an aggregate recycling and processing site for various construction materials.
For Planning Board member Matt Lewin, perhaps the biggest issue was a lack of time given to the board after Land Court remanded the issue back to Westford following an appeal, leading to a lack of clarity on whether all pertinent issues had been addressed.
“We’ve only had three months, I can absorb information only so quickly,” he said.
Due to an April 24 deadline for a decision from the Land Court and other logistical issues almost requiring a decision on Tuesday, Lewin was initially going to abstain from voting on the MCP special permit. Later, Westford Director of Land Use Planning Chris Kluchman noted to the board that a lack of information is a legitimate reason for denying a permit.
Lewin and fellow member Dennis Galvin also expressed concerns how the plant would impact property values of nearby residents, which they also said was due to a lack of information.
Members of the board expressed concerns about lacking information on other issues as well, although frequently Newport Attorney Douglas Deschenes challenged these assertions, most notably during a moment where he expressed concerns over a potential new sound study on the site following an earlier study the company had done.
Still, Galvin shared his belief that the project did not meet certain criteria to meet a MCP threshold, a belief shared on other levels by Planning Board Chairman Mike Green and Planning Board Member Darren Wizst.
In support of the special permit, Planning Board Member Kate Hollister disagreed with Galvin’s assertion that the project did not meet the character of the neighborhood due to the site’s industrial zoning and other commercial and industrial parcels nearby within the Westford side of the border.
She felt it was unfortunate that these parcels were in such close proximity to residential parcels in Chelmsford along Groton Road, but also challenged Galvin’s belief that the project would significantly impact traffic patterns in the area, citing other nearby storage facilities that she saw as similar in scope.
Regarding a pair of waivers for a sound attenuating wall on the western border of the property, Hollister was again the only member of the board to vote in favor of Newport’s request due to her view that topography border would make the wall unnecessary.
The wall was initially proposed as a way to achieve one of the criteria proposed by the Land Court that would make the site pass muster as a light industrial use, specifically having sound levels at the site below 70 decibels or 10 decibels above nearby ambient noise, whichever is lower.
A study done by Newport projected that ambient noise is currently 44 decibels on the site, but the plant would raise noise levels to 74 decibels along the western border, short of the 54 decibel maximum.
Experts disclosed at earlier meetings that the wall itself would reduce noise by approximately 20 decibels and the topographic features along the plant’s boundary would reduce noise by approximately 10 decibels.
These decisions followed more than three hours of deliberations on the over 10 pages of conditions that would have been attached to approval of the MCP and the just under 20 pages of conditions attached to site plan approval.
That site plan approval did pass 4-1, with Green voting in opposition. However, portions of the conditions were changed, most notably a requirement that would limit vehicle trips in and out of the entire property at 450 per day.
In addition to the materials facility, the property also houses a solar plant, a quarry, office space and a commercial facility for material sales.
Deschenes had no issue with a cap of 250 daily trips for the proposed asphalt plant and 150 trips for the materials plant, but the board agreed with him that 50 trips for the other uses was inappropriate given that there is currently no limit and no concerns with traffic on those parts of the property.
Newport will now go to the Zoning Board of Appeals on May 6 for hearings on a special permit or variance to allow the asphalt plant as an additional non-conforming use and a variance eliminating the noise reduction requirement.
They will also have to go before the Board of Health in the future relating to proposed material called “Ecosorb” that the applicants claim will mitigate odors at the facility.