During last week’s Zoning Board of Appeals hearing, several community members voiced concerns about Ken’s Foods operations at their Southborough warehouse. Most focused on the noise generated at the site. Some referred to rumbling both heard and felt inside residences on Flagg and Orchard roads. One was a recused member of the ZBA.
Up front, Ken’s attorney assured the ZBA that Ken’s was taking sound complaints from two residents seriously and working with them. He pitched for that to run on a separate track and not be part of the ZBA’s considerations for special permit approval. Failing to convince the Board, Attorney William Pezzoni said that Ken’s would “regroup” before the next meeting. At his request the hearing was continued to May 19th.
Both members of the ZBA and complaining residents said they hoped to find a solution that worked for Ken’s as well as residents. Many of the commenters said they were supportive of business in Southborough and/or thanked Ken’s for taking issues seriously.
Initially, Pezzoni argued that sound complaints weren’t applicable, since the request to expand the facility wouldn’t increase truck trips and noise. Pezzoni also noted that a sound study determined that the decibels generated were below MassDEP standards. ZBA Member Craig Nicholson rebutted that the Board’s charge is to ensure that there isn’t a negative impact to the Town.
During public comment, Southborough’s interim Public Health Director told the board that some of the findings of a sound study concerned her. It stated that over 70 decibels were registered in a neighborhoods for an extended period of time. She also clarified that her understanding was these were vibrating sounds. She informed the board that there are health effects from both sound and noise. She said the Board of Health would be taking up the issue.
One of the residents complaining of a personal impact was Kevin Farrington of Flagg Road, northwest of the facility. He told the board that the sound comes in through closed windows and doors overnight and early morning. He described an unpleasant feeling in your chest and teeth. He followed that it was strangely, completely quiet during the day:
It sounds to me almost like Ken’s doesn’t want to endure it, but you know they’ll let the neighbors endure it in the evening. And I don’t know if that’s fair or not, but that’s what it feels like after 18 months of this going on.
Christian Bellefontaine of Orchard Road, northeast of the building, had a different take on the timing of sound. Acknowledging that being home may have increased his awareness, he said that the noise seemed constant during the day this winter. He was one of two residents on the street who said they were already on the verge of complaining about the noise when the permit hearing came up.
ZBA member Debbie DeMuria (and married to Farrington) stated that police reports showed that trucks have been idling at the facility. She pointed out that violates state laws.
Earlier in the meeting, ZBA members referred to a request in a letter from DeMuria. She asked about having trucks plug into electric parking spots at the facility. Ken’s representatives answered that the trucks don’t have that hybrid capacity, the refrigerated compartments run on the truck’s fuel. He also explained that only about 20% of the trucks are directly owned by Ken’s.
DeMuria re-raised the issue. She and Harrington said that the impact of laws in other states like California mean hybrid trucks are out there. She urged Ken’s to be a leader on the issue, following that even reducing the noise by 20% would be a big improvement.
DeMuria also asked for a sound barrier to be installed on the west side of the facility. Harrington told the board that over the winter, Ken’s had plowed a large pile of snow to the west edge of the parking lot. He described enjoying “a few weeks of blissful quiet” that eroded as snow melted.
Pezzoni originally told the board that following actions after a 2014 special permit was granted, residents had stopped complaining about noises (until two recent complaints.) Paul Stringer of Orchard Road told the board that he didn’t think the noise problem had gone away, they still hear the noise. He thinks people just stopped complaining. He pointed to property values from his neighborhood, claiming that almost none had made money in their sales over the years.
David Sears of Deerfoot Road told the board that he has always heard significant noise. He said that when the facility is working through the night, it would require earplugs to sleep in certain bedrooms in his house. The main purpose of his comment appeared to be worry that the view from his home would become more unattractive as the building expanded towards his home.
The issue of Ken’s trucks driving on residential backroads was also raised in the hearing. Michael Moorehead of Deerfoot Road said they get an average of one truck per week. He believes that it’s due to drivers missing the entrance and looking for a way to loop around. ZBA members asked if the facility could hold more frequent trainings. A representative said they could for their fleet. For contractors, they always share the information on the “rules” that include staying off those roads.
Although the ZBA agreed to schedule a continued hearing for May 19th, they were skeptical that Ken’s could be ready in time. Pezzoni said that he would be bringing his sound study consultant to the next meeting. But in between, he was encouraged to do more work on the issues.
Chair David Williams said that it would be a struggle for his Board to figure out appropriate conditions. He suggested Ken’s consider another sound study with an expert in noise mitigation. He also advised reaching out to the Public Health Director. Member Michael Robbins said that he didn’t want to impose arbitrary and capricious conditions. He hoped that Ken’s and neighbors could come to a consensus on what would be effective and financially reasonable.
Pezzoni said that he wanted to try to push his side to be ready by the 19th. If that doesn’t work, he will notify the board the week prior, before the agenda is posted.
The size of this project is absurd. It is the full size of a stand alone warehouse. To suggest that there would be no additional truck traffic or other impacts is simply ludicrous. This proposed project is by “special” permit, and is not allowed by right. This means the permit can be turned down outright. Just say no! What is this nonsensical suggestion of “arbitrary and capricious” conditions? That doesn’t even make any sense. For goodness sake, has common sense completely gone missing? How about just turn the permit down?? You have residents speaking directly to serious health impacts and concerns, noise, vibrations, traffic. Having to wear earplugs to sleep?? Unable to use certain rooms in their homes?? It’s called destruction of the legal right of “peaceful enjoyment” of ones own home. Just say no! For goodness sake, get some competent advice from multiple sources and move forward from there.
We already have a problem with the large trucks blocking Route 9, missing their turns and creating a backup on the entrance and exit to Route 85. Sometimes they even end up on the back roads off of Route 9. Expansion should only be in an area with space to expand and accommodate the numbers and size of the trucks. Listen to the citizens.