MWDN: Future of Gulbankian machine shop in limbo in Southborough

The Metrowest Daily News has an update today on the ongoing saga involving the Gulbankian family and the businesses they operate on their Mt. Vickery Road property. It’s a case many of you have been following with interest.

More than a year ago, the Zoning Board of Appeals voted to require the Gulbankian family to make improvements to its 40 Mt. Vickery Road property after complaints from neighbors. The Gulbankians appealed the decision, but it was upheld in Worcester Superior Court. Now comes word the family has dropped a further appeal.

Reports the MWDN:

Gulbankian Farms has dropped an appeal against a court order finding it in violation of the town’s zoning bylaw, leaving its machine shop vulnerable to a cease and desist order from the town.

Town officials would not say whether they had plans to shut down the shop, which the family runs at 40 Mt. Vickery Road next to its bus storage operation and flower shop.

“They’ve got me in a corner,” owner 82-year-old Michael Gulbankian Sr. said this week.

Many in town have been critical of the ZBA’s initial ruling in 2011, with some going so far as to call it a “moral abomination.” But ZBA Chairman Matthew Hurley said the board was trying to balance the needs of the family and its businesses with the needs of abutters.

“The ZBA has nothing against the Gulbankians,” Hurley wrote on My Southborough in June. “Our goal all along has been to apply the law in this complex matter in an even-handed way that’s fair to all parties and minimizes the risk of embroiling the Town in expensive and time-consuming litigation.”

Related stories:

Zoning board chairman responds to criticism over Gulbankians decision (06/18/12)
MWDN: Southborough ZBA ruling on Gulbankian Farms upheld (06/13/12)
Decision reached on Gulbankians zoning issue, but not everyone is happy (1/27/11)

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11 years ago

they would have to pave the parkjng lot or shut down the machine shop? one has absolutley nothing to do with the other.all the work done at the machine shop is performed inside their contained building. we should all pay very close attention to how our officials decide to handle our long time nieghbors. they are good people who have always run thier businesses by the book. with permits aquired from the sure they wouldnt have made such a big investment in all thier equipment if they thought there was any chance the town could come back later to say sorry we made a mistake and you need to close. or spend so much money they will go bankrupt trying to complie with new rules that the machjne shop has no effect on. mr gulbainkian is still strugling to make a living at 82 yrs of age. i sure hope none of us stand quietly by and watch while our town brings anymore hurt or expence to these good folks.they have paid enough for somthing that was never thier fault !!!

John Kendall
11 years ago
Reply to  daddyo

I am with you 100% and will ALWAYS stand with Mike and Alice Gulbankian!

Lisa Braccio
11 years ago
Reply to  John Kendall

I agree, so very sad, it is time for us to stand up for this wonderful family and give the our full support.

ET on Ted
11 years ago
Reply to  John Kendall

I totally and wholeheartedly agree with daddyo, John and my newest friend, Lisa B. I’m a life-long resident in town, I actually bought the house that I grew up in – from my mother. I take great pride in being a resident of our great town – from attending Walcott (pre-k), Finn(k-2), Neary (3-6), Woodward (7-8) and ARHS (9-12).

I’ll always remember the great people I met along the way, and the great places I went to in town as a little kiddo…Davco for fresh apples and honey candy. Marlborough Savings Bank – I always knew there would be lollipops for me and my twin sister. Southborough Library – oh the countless times I would opt to run up the concrete instead of just using the stairs like everyone else was doing. I still catch myself doing this today (tee-hee). Finn Family Fun Sales (perhaps I got the name wrong). Neary’s can drive – when the 5-cent deposit was just being rolled out. We had to crush each and every can we collected, and at the same time – competing against the other grades for bragging rights.

But I will ALWAYS remember the times my mother and/or father would take my 2 sister to Gulbankian’s. Over the years we made many trips there and purchases, too. I can even remember one of the Gulbankian men driving the ‘ol S1 or S8 school bus to and from school for years. I feel bad I don’t remember his name, but I’ve often recalled him being one of our ‘favorite bus drivers’. Always with a shirt and tie on. Always smiling and laughing with us kiddos. Always polite, courteous and making safety of his kids very seriously. I also remember my mother taking a short-lived job somewhere in Boston. She didn’t want the daily commute into the city, so she used to take the Gulbankian bus service into Boston every M-F; I remember driving home during the week from ARHS on Route 85 and seeing my mother’s car parked in the (yes, unpaved) parking lot – just waiting for her to return home – via a Gulbankian’s bus. She always appreciated the service provided by the Gulbankian’s.

It’s clear that I support the Gulbankian family – even if they don’t remember who I am – because I’ll always remember them as being honest, kind and caring people that have been running their business in the ‘town that I love’, since before I was born. I am truly HORRIFIED with reading about all of the actions taken against them so far. Whenever I drive down Mount Vickory Road, I smile as I drive by Gulbankian Farm and I ‘S.M.H.’ as I drive by the ‘neighbors that have been complaining’. Shame on you, dammit. And to those in town that can make this right for the Gulbankian family…please step up and do what is right for them, yourselves and the rest of the Southborough residents.

11 years ago

The story as reported in MWDN is so sad. Basically these long time residents and taxpayers have been clobbered by their neighbors and various town boards. Their business is at risk and they’re being sued for tens of thousands of dollars by one of the law firms they needed to hire.
Somewhere there needs to be some common sense and compassion.
Our officials should get creative. I hope that the neighbors are also surprised and a bit ashamed at this outcome. They could not have really wanted to bankrupt these people.

11 years ago

can someone post what can be done for them.
compassion is free but common sense that seems to be something that is falling by the wayside

Al Hamilton
11 years ago
Reply to  Northsider

Each town resident who is registered to vote is a member of our legislature, Town Meeting. Town Meeting has a lot of authority to act and could be used as a vehicle for rectifying an injustice. It only takes the signatures of 10 voters to place a matter on the warrant for the Annual Town Meeting (April) for debate and ultimately a vote. Here are a few thoughts:

1. A member could move to cut the budget of the ZBA

2. A member could move to cut our legal budget or stipulate that no funds be used to further persecute this family.

3. A warrant article rezoning the parcel in question to make it comply. A 2/3 majority is required.

4. A warrant for a sum of money to compensate the Gulbankians for their loss.

You can expect push back from the powers that be but if you stand your ground, the article must appear in the warrant and be voted on.

Pat Q.
11 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

Al………thanks for the information. Northsider is right; we can all be compassionate as the day is long in our blogging, but what can actually be done for them, that would make a difference, is quite another thing.

A few follow-up questions for Al (thanks in advance!)

1. Is there a deadline for submitting the signatures to place some of these matters on the warrant for next April’s Town Meeting?
2. You say that there may be pushback, do you mean for even getting it PLACED on the warrant for Town meeting? What person or group decides what is placed on the warrant (even if a formal request is made and accompanied by voter signatures)?

Susan……in reference to John Kendalls post about “attending any and all meetings
that the town will hold regarding the matter”; would you be willing to help keep us posted on meetings that specifically address this issue? (feel funny asking as you already do so much!)

Al Hamilton
11 years ago
Reply to  Pat Q.


The Warrant belongs to the Board of Selectmen. They determine the order of the warrant and have some say about what appears. The Selectmen will probably “Close” the warrant some time in Jan. Nothing can be added once the warrant is closed. It will be subsequently opened and closed over the next few months as articles are modified or added.

If you gathered the required signatures you might be told that the “The warrant is closed” or that “You cant do that” or some other thing that might discourage your submitting the petition. My understanding is that a citizen petition must go on the warrant it its is opened regardless of its content. (I might be wrong about this). You should expect that this will be the last thing on the warrant and agenda.

So, my advice for anyone taking this route is to get 15-20 signatures and make sure the names and addresses are legible and that the signers are registered voters. Submit the petition (I think it goes to the Clerk) in Dec or early Jan at the latest. Make sure there is someone sitting in the audience that will second the motion.

John Kendall
11 years ago

Attend any and all hearings that the town will hold regarding the matter.

11 years ago

Al and Others,

Thank you for your comments. I guess it is partly a lack of education on my part that makes it difficult to know which one of your options is the best to pursue. In an effort to help the Gulbankians, it seems very likely to me if put to a vote they would not have much of a problem getting a two thirds majority vote in favor of the Gulbankians. Given the fact that everyone I have spoken to has such a strong conviction of support for the Gulbankians.
There seems to be such little impact on the town due to the fact the work for the machine shop is performed inside the shop and the business generates such little traffic that none of us would even notice a difference whether it was open for business or not.
I think it would be nice if this matter could be put to bed with the least amount of turbulance as possible without taking unnecessary steps. I am willing to provide any help I can.
In an effort to know what kind of support the Gulbankians will need, I would be very interested in hearing from Selectman John Rooney where he and the Town stand on this matter.
With the elections coming up and both candidates Carolyn Dykema and Marty Lamb boasting support for small business and jobs. I would like to hear from them on what kind of support they are willing to offer.

Thank you in advance for your anticipated responses.


Jim Foley

John Butler
11 years ago


I’m with you. We need to do something. We can’t just watch this happen and do nothing about it. I had hoped that making this public in stark terms over many months here on this blog would cause the Town to come to its senses. There is no evidence that that has yet worked. Some Town officials seem to be stuck, unable to see the forest for the trees, mired in legalisms. This is why we have citizen control, to prevent this, but it doesn’t seem to be working at the right level.

From Al’s list the best step, in my view, would be to force an immediate Special Town Meeting by gathering enough signatures, to rezone the land. The land across the street in each direction is not residential and would permit each of the uses by right. This land, therefore would not be a zoning island but would be abutting similarly zoned land on two sides. One could go further and argue that it was an original zoning mistake, dating back to the 1950s to have zoned it residential in the first place, given that it adjoins land that would permit these uses and has required special permits for old uses.

Agreeing for a long time with the views of “northsider”, I asked the Gulbankians a little while ago if they would like “we citizens” to take up their cause by doing this. I believe that they have hoped to settle matters with the Town in some less public and forceful manner; a worthy sentiment. I don’t want to move in this direction if the family does not seek it, but neither do I want them to think that no one cares to do anything.

I hope that if it is necessary to gather signatures for a Special Town Meeting, that some who have spoken here anonymously in support of this family will step forward to help us in the task at hand.

If I remember correctly...
11 years ago
Reply to  John Butler

You guys keep going back to the multiple uses and the zoning for those uses being the problem. My recollection is that the ZBA granted the Gulnakians their variance so no change of zoning is actually needed. The last issue is one of State stormwater regulations that require that the parking lot be paved. If that is the case, what is needed is money to help them with the cost of the work, not legal manipulations. We can’t exempt them from these regulation, whether we want to or not, but residents can help them with the costs of compliance.

If I remember correctly...
11 years ago
Reply to  John Butler

According to the chair of the ZBA, the Gulbankians have already been granted their variances for all the uses on their property, The last two requirements are paving the parking lot and installing a stormwater filtration system. This is required by state law for anyone engaging in the type of business they run.

So we don’t need to pay thousands for a Special Town Meeting and change our zoning bylaw. We need to give them the thousands so they can get the work done.

John Butler
11 years ago

The situation is complex, which is why I don’t want to act without knowing from the family that anything we do is something that they actually want. I believe on the other hand that, contrary to the drift of your comments, the Town has had room to choose to pursue or not to pursue. It isn’t as though the State just passed some law that named ZBAs as the enforcement agent statewide. This began as neighbor against neighbor.. The Town has chosen to pursue legal harassment when it might have chosen not to, and I think it still has choices to make.

Maybe the zoning bylaw is still wrong in its zoning of this land, and a Special Town Meeting may be just the thing to impress citizen outrage upon our unresponsive officials. Again, however, we need to know that the family would like us to do.

(Some readers may know that I serve on Advisory Committee. Please be aware that I never speak for the Committee here.)

11 years ago

if i remember correctly I believe the only threat is to shut down the machine shop.the bus and florist shop are not required to perform these newly requested will never convince me there is any logic in requiringthese updates for the machine shop other than simple harassment. as i already stated they pulled all building and business not sure. but one could argue the town could be subject to a law suit for granting permits. giving them the goahead to purchase hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment then revolking their right to use it.considering this whole mess has been brought on by no fault of their own. the town should do what ever is required to grand father in or rezone this property.if this is not resolved by the town willingly and quickly then i beleive the town officals will be the ones to blame for any cost incured by any town meetings to resolve this issue.if need be i think a vote will show very clearly the wishes of our people.

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