WESTFIELD – During a public hearing at the Dec. 3 City Council meeting, Westfield-Barnes Airport Manager Christopher Willenborg requested a special permit for a change of use to temporarily store up to 280 empty trailers for six months in the water resource area.
Willenborg said he was approached several months ago by the Home Depot to store the trailers. Considering it a revenue opportunity, he looked for space and identified the spectator parking lot of the former Whip City Raceway track, which the Home Depot team said would work for them.
Willenborg said he started working with the Building Department, the Planning Depot, and the Airport Commission to start the process, and they are now at the point where they need a special permit from the City Council.
“If it does end up passing, we would deal with a license agreement with the Home Depot, and potential revenues from this would be $23,000 to $25,000 a month, which would be a significant revenue source for the airport and the city,” Willenborg said.
Opening up the hearing to questions, At-large Councilor Kristen Mello asked Willenborg if the surface of the parking area was pervious or impervious, and whether there is any surface water guidance or groundwater filtration in place.
Willenborg, who returned as airport manager this year after previously serving in the position from 1999 to 2008, said he was not at the airport when the parking lot was put in. He said he believes the surface is impervious, but would have to get that verified by City Planner Jay Vinskey. He also said there are no drains, so he believes there is sheet draining at the lot.
Mello also asked if the trailers would be brought there once, or would be making daily trips. Willenborg said there would be continuous moving trips, potentially 30 to 40 per day.
Ward 5 Councilor John J. Beltrandi, III suggested that the Engineering Department be included on the site visit, to which Willenborg agreed.
Ward 3 Councilor Bridget Matthews-Kane said there are no rental storage units allowed in the area, and asked whether the trailers would be inspected to verify that they are empty.
Willenborg said they would come up with a process. He also said that the site is secure with its own fencing and trees, and is not visible from the road. He said it is also outside of the airport’s security fencing, which is one reason they picked that area.
Council President Brent B. Bean, II asked what the odds are of the arrangement lasting only six months. Willenborg said he didn’t know the answer to that. “The goal of the Airport Commission is to have a permanent development up there. Right now, they are just focussed on up to six months,” he said.
At-large Councilor Dave Flaherty said the Council had previously shut down a storage area over the aquifer. He said his original concern about the proposal had been the trucks going in and out, but since it is a paved area, he is in favor of it if the agreement is only for six months.
At-large Councilor Nicholas J. Morganelli Jr. asked whether there would be liability to the city with the trailers sitting there. Willenborg said there is no conflict with the FAA in terms of the height of the trailers, and that the agreement would address liability.
“I would like to see zero liability,” Morganelli said. He also questioned the amount the city would be charging. He said the Big E charges $10 per day per trailer, and this agreement amounts to around $3 per day per trailer. He said he would like to see them do some research and make sure they are getting a competitive price, and not short changing the city.
Willenborg said last year Home Depot stored trailers at Westover. He said they aren’t charging per trailer, but per acre, and their rate is slightly higher than what Westover charged.
“Let’s not forget that we’ve asked the airport to become self-sufficient. This goes towards self-sufficiency,” Beltrandi said.
At-large Councilor Richard K. Sullivan Jr. said he would love to see an enterprise fund established for the airport, and agreed with supporting that as a goal. He also asked about the hours of the trips the trailers would be making.
Willenborg said primarily they would be during normal business hours, however there would be night-time operations. He also said he spoke to Home Depot about not having trucks staying there overnight.
“I would encourage you to limit operations as much as possible. The provision for penalties in ending this lease needs to be (explicit). The requirements in that lease need to be strict,” Sullivan said.
Burns asked whether the revenue would go into the general fund, to which the airport manager said it would because they don’t currently have an enterprise fund, but that it would be counted towards airport income.
Mello said the special permit was triggered because it is in a water resource area. She asked whether Home Depot is willing to make changes to the parking area if needed to prevent groundwater contaminants.
Willenborg said he would have to reach out to their team, because he hadn’t asked about the washing of trucks, or their willingness to put in stormwater and drainage.
Asked how soon they would like to start the storage, he said “yesterday,” adding that once the special permit is approved they will have to go through licensing.
The City Council agreed to keep the public hearing open to hear from Planning and Engineering, and also to send it to the License subcommittee, which is chaired by Beltrandi.
The public hearing will be continued to the Special City Council meeting on Dec. 10, with a plan to vote on the special permit at the Council’s regular meeting on Dec. 17.