Westfield planning board made a decision, holds on another

The outdoor lighting is seen to be reflecting off another neighboring house at night. (Photo from Heidi Leonard/The Westfield News)

WESTFIELD, Mass. (The Westfield News) – The city’s planning board determined the fate of one special permit last night, but another still hangs in the balance.

The Agway property expansion at 323 Lockhouse Road and the contentious Roots Athletic Complex at 181 Root Road were among the topics. The planning board OKed the special permit on Lockhouse Road, allowing for the expansion of the Agway property but they once again met a stalemate on a decision regarding Roots.

Prior to their Dec. 20 meeting the board already voted to shut down the outdoor portion of the Roots complex following complaints of lighting, noise and traffic near the site that were made by frustrated neighbors and city officials.

The planning board made that vote after they determined that it was not meeting the requirements of the special permit that was submitted to the board, but debated and initially voted on allowing partial operation of the indoor portion of the facility during their last meeting on Dec. 20, pending a confirmation from the city building inspector that the building is safe to be occupied.

The vote was cancelled by planning board chairperson Philip McEwan however, after debate over language in the special permit caused uncertainty about how many votes were needed. The language said “the planning board may, by an affirmative vote of at least five members,” allow the use or partial use of the building. The board voted four in favor of allowing the indoor portion to operate barring building inspector OK, while two voted against. After the vote, McEwan cancelled it and moved the discussion and revote to Jan. 3.

Then, last night the board discussed the matter once more. The board mentioned concerns regarding the safety of the building, as well as the conspicuous absence of all Roots representatives at the meeting.

“I want this done to the specific standards to keep these children safe,” board member Jane Magarian, said. “They couldn’t give me answers on what actually constituted what needed to be finished.”

McEwan and others though, felt that the board’s responsibility is not to oversee the safety aspects of the construction. Instead, this duty falls to the building inspector, who would be allowed to inspect the building if the board voted in favor of this.

“From state building code, chapter 1, ‘temporary occupancy’—‘The building official is authorized to issue a temporary certificate of occupancy prior to completion with or without planning board’s consent,” McEwan said. “I feel we are overstepping our bounds.”

First assistant city solicitor Shanna Reed concurred with McEwan.

“I think the board needs to be careful about getting into the building inspection aspect of it and focus on the site plan aspect of it,” Reed said.

After about a half-hour of discussion, the board decided that a decision would not be made and voted to table it until their next meeting.

In a simpler decision, the board voted to approve a special permit to allow the expansion of the Agway building at 323 Lockhouse Road. The expansion is reported to be about 200,000 feet, and it will be used to increase the amount of indoor storage that the facility can provide for their various products, as well as increase access to freight and deliveries.

The hearing is another one that was continued to the Jan. 3 meeting, this time due to waiting on the conservation commission’s approval on the site, which was received.

“There are a number of outer buildings, two or three of the buildings will be removed,” Rob Levesque of Levesque and Associates, said at the first hearing Dec. 20. Levesque and Associates are the engineering firm overseeing the expansion.

“A lot of what they store now is outside and they want to bring it inside. A majority of items will be stored inside other than trailers,” Levesque said.

During the Dec. 20 meeting, city advancement officer Joe Mitchell endorsed the project and asked for the planning board to approve it.

“We will have this business here for another 15 years, and that means they will keep 60 employees here. That’s 60 good paying jobs staying here in Westfield,” Mitchell said.

“What you see before you and the work that has been done is a significant investment in our community,” he added.

Mitchell also said that the site is currently a major distribution point for large amounts of birdseed through the country and this project would help continue and improve that.

The board had concerns about what would be stored on the property though, particularly what forms of fertilizer. Certain fertilizers have been and continue to be studied by the Environmental Protection Agency due to the possibility that they may be unsafe in certain scenarios.

Levesque was unable to specify what sort of fertilizers would be stored on site, but did note that the products at the facility would be those that you may find at most home and garden stores, rather than industrial-style products. He also added that “nothing noxious that would be of concern” would be stored at the facility.

City planner Jay Vinskey added that the traffic is not expected to increase in the area, since there wouldn’t be a copious amount of new truck deliveries. Levesque added that the property is also already on a truck route with nearby industrial lots, as well.

The board voted to unanimously approve the special permit.