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Residents Wary of Plan to Add New Warehouse to Simplex Site

March 4, 2019
Town Planner Steve Wallace talks about a proposal to build a new warehouse on a plot of land on Simplex Drive during Saturday's forum in Westminster. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / JOHN LOVE Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

WESTMINSTER -- A lack of information drove most of the spirited discussion during Saturday’s forum to allow the public to hear about four zoning amendments that will be warrant articles during the May 4 Town Meeting.

About 30 frustrated residents attended the meeting, which was held at the Forbush Public Library and was hosted by Town Planner Steve Wallace.

Among the topics discussed was a plan to expand the Simplex Drive Industrial District to allow the property owner to build a one-million-square-foot warehouse that supporters said would generate millions of dollars of new tax revenue for the town.

The only problem? Nobody knows who the property owner is, or what kind of warehouse he or she wants to open.

“No, it’s not a weed farm and, no, it’s not Amazon,” said Wallace, sharing what little information he had on the landowner with residents, but that was not good enough for most in attendance, as some voiced concern that town officials, with an eye on additional tax revenue, were rushing through a decision with little appreciation for how much it would impact the town’s quality of life, including excessive noise and increased traffic.

“Does it give you pause that (the landowner) is asking for 1,000 parking spaces?” asked Joe Busch. “This is not the right place for it, absolutely not the right place.”

In addition to not knowing the identity of the tenant, Wallace admitted officials didn’t know how many or what types of jobs the new warehouse would produce, and what the facility’s hours of operation would be.

“Have you ever seen an operation that large that wasn’t 24 hours a day?” one resident asked.

Busch wondered what the point of the meeting was when so little information was available.

“Coming to a meeting today, with zero information before the Town Meeting, it sounds like a recipe for disaster,” Busch said.

Wallace attempted to allay the residents’ concerns.

“We’re not going to move this (decision) along if we don’t know who the tenant is,” he said.

While listing the concerns of residents and promising to bring them to the attention of the Board of Selectmen, Wallace pointed out that the town would soon be seeking some new forms of revenue, whatever is decided at Town Meeting.

“In 2026, the landfill is slated to close,” Wallace said. “And when that happens the town is going to be hit with a double-whammy -- not only will we lose the $2 million in revenue that landfill generates for us every year, but we’re going to have to start paying to truck our trash elsewhere. That’s going to be an expensive proposition.”

Wallace admitted he had hoped to have more information about the new tenant before the meeting began, and he agreed with those who pointed out that the clock was ticking to learn more about the issue before a decision could be made. A second public forum on the proposed changes is scheduled for Tuesday, March 5, at the Town Hall, and a final public hearing is set for March 26.

Also discussed at the meeting was a revised sign bylaw, aimed at encouraging signs that would complement the town’s rural character and natural beauty, and a proposed zoning bylaw to allow the retail sale of recreational marijuana in certain areas of the community.

Follow Stephen Landry on Twitter @Landry17Stephen.