Get out your dictionary! According to sprawl-busters in Shrewsbury, MA, Home Depot is playing with words to try and gain special permit approval for a 153,000 s.f. distribution center by the shores of Lake Quinsigamond, and local officials seem more intimidated than pleased with the prospect. Residents say that a “distribution center” is not allowed in a commercial zone, so Home Depot’s plans have been presented as a “cross dock facility”, to fit into the definition of a “truck terminal” — which is allowed only by special permit. Here’s the account from one resident: “Home Depot is pushing through a proposal to build a huge distribution center at the location of the historic Edgemere Drive in Shrewsbury. Whats wrong with this? This is a wooded parcel of land that is halfway surrounded by the shores of Lake Quinsigamond, a fresh water lake that is used by many for recreation for fishing, swimming, boating. This site will have 30 + acres of pavement that will produce over 600 thousand gallons of runoff into the lake for every inch of rainfall (we average 41 inches per year).They have presented an engineering plan that supposedly uses credits to remove diesel truck drippings, salt and sand etc, as well as any chemicals. spilled. We think it’s just smoke-and-mirrors as the development is within 50-60 feet of the lake at certain locations. The pollutant and thermal heated runoff is certain to have a devastating effect on the lake and it’s wildlife. We are also concerned about the traffic as they propose 1160 vehicles a day traveling on a roadway that is already overcrowded and dangerous. There will also be air, and noise pollution and this facility will run 24X7X365. Efforts to stop this by bringing up issues at town meetings have failed so far. We are forced to appeal.Home Depot has hired the town moderator to represent them and other locals to win their approval. We feel they are being very irresponsible environmentally and safety wise. We will continue our opposition.” This “cross dock facility” would distribute goods to about 100 Home Depots in New England and part of New York. The developers from Braintree, MA, went before the Shrewsbury Zoning Board this week to get a special permit to build a trucking terminal in a commercial zone, and to get variances on landscaping rules, according to the Worcester Telegram-Gazette. Even though the project needs a special permit, members of the ZBA seemed intimidated by the application. “Quite frankly,” one Board member was quoted as saying, “we’re powerless to stop it if the owner really wants to push this thing. He’ll beat us in court. That’s not our function, to deny it if it’s an approved use.” The town’s Conservation Commission gave the developer a list of conditions, and the Planning Board will review the project by June. The developer has agreed to build a sewage pumping station, to widen and improve the road, and to route trucks away from nearby homes. The facility will resemble a jail, with a barbed wired perimeter fence for neighbors to enjoy.
This project will clearly have a major impact on the ability of neighbors to peaceably enjoy their homes. It will also have an impact on the residential value of their properties, on traffic, and the local environment. For a Zoning Board to say it is “powerless” to deny a special permit in the face of such a major development is almost enough to make local residents cry. The whole reason for a special permit is to give the Board the discretion to say No if the project does not meet its special permit criteria as spelled out in their ordinance. So far residents have gone up against this project without benefit of a land use attorney, while the developer’s lawyer is a well-known favorite son. The citizens here are basically unarmed and facing the financial arsenal of Home Depot and the developer. Local officials seem to be more concerned about what might happen in court than what kind of case they have before them. Zoning Board are never powerless. They may be weak, but they are not powerless to use their own zoning ordinance to stop a project, which because of its scale and intensity, would undermine the purposes of its zoning and the special permit intent.