The public hearing to discuss a controversial settlement between the town and a Nashua company came to a crashing halt Oct. 12 when the Stony Brook School auditorium filled to capacity and spilled over into the lobby forcing public safety officials to refuse access to more than 60 people.
Residents, already angered by the outcome of their efforts to fight the prospect of an asphalt plant in the Nabnasset section, grew more agitated when it became apparent that the room could not hold all who wanted to be heard. This, even though the meeting was being live-streamed by Westford Community Access Television.
On Oct. 5, town officials announced they had reached a settlement with Newport Materials, LLC, of Nashua and 540 Groton Road, LLC, of Westford. The owner of both companies, Richard DeFelice, fought for six years to win Planning Board approval for an asphalt plant on 3 of 115 acres at 540 Groton Road. After two denials by the Planning Board in 2010 and 2015, the agreement took residents by surprise and sparked outrage that was reflected on Facebook and in the “no asphalt plant” signs that have begun sprouting in front yards around town.
Inside the auditorium at 7:10 p.m. were 350 seated people and several more standing, while two town boards and a handful of key town employees were arranged in a panel formation at the front of the room, ready to begin a dialogue. But outside the auditorium in the lobby was an additional crowd who were not being allowed inside the auditorium due to fire safety concerns.
It was Laura Burns of Rome Drive who expressed the group’s sentiment.
“Reschedule the meeting and find a bigger venue!” she shouted. The request prompted an impromptu discussion between Selectman Chairman Kelly Ross and Police Chief Thomas McEnaney. Ross then announced the meeting would be rescheduled and held in a location that could accommodate the crowd.
Ross, who has weathered a storm of criticism over the settlement, voiced disappointment that the meeting could not take place that night.
“I’d hoped we could find resolution, but I want to make sure everyone’s heard,” he said. “We were going to hear from all the board members to get their positions.”
The settlement was signed by Ross, Selectmen Mark Kost, Andrea Peraner-Sweet and Don Siriani. Selectman Scott Hazelton’s signature does not appear on the agreement.
Two out of five Planning Board members did not sign the document. Darren Wizst, Katherine Hollister, and Matt Lewin signed. Planning Board member Michael Green declined to say why his signature does not appear.
“I’ll put my comments on the record when we have the next meeting,” he said.
Planning Board Chairman Dennis Galvin was not so reticent.
“I didn’t sign because I thought the Planning Board acted within its jurisdiction,” he said. “I thought we should have had our day in court.”
On April 14, 2015, the Planning Board denied DeFelice a major commercial property special permit. Galvin said a special permit contains criteria that would support the town’s decision to deny the plant.
“For example, one of the criteria is ‘consistency with the neighborhood,’” Galvin said. “Our authority is more enhanced.”
Galvin’s stance against the plant has not gone unnoticed by Nabnasset residents who worry about increased traffic, noise and airborne pollution. Dawn Batchelder of Fernwood Drive approached him as the meeting broke up and thanked him for the position he’s taken on the plant.
“He’s been on this board from the beginning and has been listening to what the people wanted,” she said. “We also noted he didn’t sign the agreement.”
Follow Joyce Pellino Crane on Twitter @joypellinocrane, and WestfordCAT @westfordcat.