A notice, just released by the town manager’s office in Westford indicates more legal action between the town and a Nashua businessman who wants to build an asphalt plant at 540 Groton Road.
Selectman Andrea Peraner-Sweet who was elected chairman of the board on Nov. 1 just issued the following statement on the controversial settlement agreed to by town officials that would have permitted Richard DeFelice, owner of Newport Materials to operate his plant in town:
“At the direction of the Board of Selectmen, Town Counsel has filed a motion to vacate the Agreement for Judgment entered by the Land Court in the Newport Materials litigation, which involves a proposed asphalt manufacturing facility at 540 Groton Road. The basis of the motion is that the Land Court unilaterally altered the terms of the Agreement for Judgment to eliminate the Town’s ability to enforce the terms of the Agreement (including over 100 protective conditions negotiated by the Town) through contempt of court. The Town expects that the Court will hold a hearing on this motion some time in late November.”
The stunning statement caps a month of revelations and protests beginning on Oct. 6 when former Selectmen Chairman Kelly Ross released a letter announcing the surprise settlement and listing $8.5 million in concessions to the town as well as restrictions by which DeFelice would have to abide when operating the plant. However, the presiding judge took the teeth out of the settlement by doing away with the town’s right to file a contempt of court motion if the conditions were violated. The decision has given Town Counsel Jonathan Silverstein of Boston a reason for attempting to reverse the agreement.
Residents throughout this expansive town of 33 square miles used social media to organize and demand through public protests, written letters, formal complaints and public statements that selectmen vacate the settlement and continue fighting DeFelice in court. “No Asphalt” lawn signs sprouted in front yards everywhere.
It was a victory for the Route 40 Clean Air Coalition, a group of Westford and Chelmsford residents living in the vicinity of the proposed asphalt plant, that formed years ago to battle DeFelice. Groton Road is also part of Route 40, an asphalt strip of roadway in the northern section of town that connects Westford to Chelmsford on the east side, and to Groton on the west.
DeFelice, owner of 540 Groton Road, LLC, proposed the plant in 2009 to be sited on almost 3 acres of his 115-acre property which abuts the Fletcher Granite quarry. Already in operation on the land is a rock crushing business.
The Planning Board denied the proposal in April 2010. DeFelice appealed the decision in Land Court where the Honorable Alexander H. Sands, III, remanded it back to the Planning Board. In his Dec. 8, 2014 decision, Sands indicated that if DeFelice complied with all noise and traffic requirements set forth by the town, that the location would be “ideal” for an asphalt plant. The state Department of Environmental Protection earlier had issued a modified clean air permit.
In April 2015, the Planning Board again denied DeFelice by failing to approve a Major Commercial Property permit. DeFelice again appealed and the matter was pending in Land Court when the board of selectmen and three of five Planning Board members signed the settlement.
Silverstein would later say the town’s case was weak and Sands’ language in the ruling made it clear that the judge would be inclined to rule in DeFelice’s favor. A judgment could mean fewer, if any, concessions for the town, and a weaker position for assigning restrictions, Silverstein said. The town’s attorney said he had sought expert opinion on whether an asphalt plant would lower property values, hoping that an affirmative finding would strengthen the town’s position in the eyes of the judge. However, after completing an evaluation, the expert concluded that an asphalt plant would not adversely affect property values, Silverstein said.
But at a protracted public hearing on Oct. 25, residents rejected all explanations and demanded selectmen undo the agreement. The residents followed their public statements with a protest on Oct. 29 in the town Common and another on Nov. 1 in front of Town Hall while selectmen were meeting behind closed doors to reconsider the settlement. On both occasions, at least 200 showed up to make their voices heard.
With the release of the latest statement, selectmen, on Nov. 3, indicated they were listening.