Agricultural Commission formally opposes Carvana project

SOUTHWICK- The Agricultural Commission voted unanimously to formally oppose the proposed Carvana project at 686 College Highway in a remote meeting June 23. 

Dozens of residents attended the meeting and many expressed their opposition to building a Carvana facility in Southwick. Agricultural Commission Co-Chair Burt Hanson said that the project is not in line with Southwick’s priorities.

“This project is clearly in conflict with agricultural priorities of the town and I believe we should oppose the special permit in front of the planning board at this point,” said Hanson.

The project is going through the public hearing process in the Planning Board. The Planning Board hearing is scheduled to continue on June 29. It is not clear if there will be more hearings after June 29 or if the Planning Board will grant a special permit for the project during that meeting. 

Planning Board Chair Michael Doherty was present at the Agricultural Commission meeting, where he fielded some questions from residents. He said near the beginning of the meeting that he could say little beyond discussing the actual process of the Carvana permit request.

“Our job is to take the evidence presented to us and determine whether a special permit should be issued,” said Doherty.

He said that the planning board only looks at whether an applicant requesting a special permit is adhering to all the relevant bylaws. The property at 686 College Highway is currently owned by the Indus Realty Trust, Inc., formally known as Griffin Industrial Realty, Inc.

The permit itself is also not actually being sought by Carvana, but by Brinkmann Constructors, the general contractor Carvana selected to build the facility. 

Doherty said that he has been watching the situation unfold on social media, including the Facebook Page, “Keep Southwick Green No Carvana.” He said he has seen a lot of misinformation being spread that he sees as detrimental to the conversation. One piece of misinformation he said he has seen is the idea that Carvana will be constructing one of their car vending machine towers, which is untrue.

Carvana is proposing to build a vehicle processing facility in which their vehicles are repaired and cleaned before being sent to other locations. There would not be a vehicle vending machine nor would there be retail sales of vehicles from the facility. 

“I think everybody needs to sit down and focus on what this actually is and what the requirements are,” said Doherty. 

Agricultural Commissioner Maryssa Cook-Obregón pointed out that Southwick has been a “Right to Farm” community since 2006. 

Chapter 140 of Southwick’s bylaws reads in part, “This General Bylaw encourages the pursuit of agriculture, promotes agriculture-based economic opportunities, and protects farmlands within the Town of Southwick by allowing agricultural uses and related activities to function with minimal conflict with abutters and Town agencies. This bylaw shall apply to all jurisdictional areas within the Town.”

Another area of concern for many residents was the effect that this project would have on traffic. A traffic survey estimated that the Carvana facility would add an additional 2,600 vehicles that would pass through the intersection of College Highway and Tannery Road each day. Resident David Sutton said that he read another study with current traffic figures claiming that 14,000 vehicles drive north on College Highway each day, 13,000 vehicles drive south on College Highway, and 1,700 vehicles come out from Tannery Road each day. These numbers have not been verified by The Westfield News, but they would indicate that the Carvana facility would have little relative impact on traffic on College Highway itself, but would more than double the daily traffic on Tannery Road. 

Hanson and other Agricultural Commissioners expressed concern over the secrecy that surrounded the project before it was revealed last month. He said it was questionable that Carvana could come in and begin negotiations without even Southwick Select Board members knowing who the applicant is. The project had only been known as “Project Baily.” 

“It looks bad for the town because it makes it seem like the town was trying to sneak something through,” said Commissioner Dennis Clark. “If it was such a great project, why wouldn’t it be out there to get people on board with it?”

Clark said he would also like to ask the state to give the project a second look to see if it should be subject to a Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) review to further study the possible environmental consequences of the project. 

“I have never seen a project of this size not have a MEPA review on it,” said Clark. 

At the end of the meeting, Hanson made a motion to, “oppose the Carvana project because it conflicts with our right to farm bylaw, our open space and regulations plan, and MEPA code regarding land and transportation.” 

The motion was seconded by Commissioner Brett Colson, and was passed unanimously by the commission as a whole. Hanson said that the commission would continue to investigate things that the commission could do in opposition of the project. 

To Top