WESTFIELD – The Westfield City Council on July 1 voted to monitor and update city departments on the controversial Carvana project proposal that is being heard in the Planning Board in Southwick.
The motion for the Carvana discussion was put forward by Council President Brent Bean II, Ward 4 City Councilor Michael Burns, and Ward 5 City Councilor John J. Beltrandi III.
Carvana is a relatively new type of company that essentially acts as an online car dealership. Without having to go to a physical used car lot, one can order a vehicle through an app and have it delivered to them. Through a general contractor, Carvana is seeking special permits and site plan approval to construct a 65.7 acre vehicle processing facility at 686 College Highway.
Bean emphasized that his goal in putting forward the motion was not to impose Westfield’s will on a neighboring town, but to help keep Westfield residents and officials informed of a project that could have great impact to Westfield.
“This isn’t something I want to put out there to try to get Southwick to do something and get involved in their project,” said Bean, “That being said, there are constituents that are calling. The traffic will affect Westfield, that is pretty obvious.”
He said he wanted to ask Mayor Donald F. Humason Jr. to designate someone from the Planning Department to monitor future public hearings related to Carvana in Southwick.
“I don’t want to get in the habit of telling other cities and towns what to do, but this is a larger project,” said Bean.
At-Large City Councilor Kristen L. Mello made a motion to amend the original motion to allow the water and legal departments to monitor the project alongside the planning department. She said she has concerns that the heavy water usage at the facility could lead to further PFAS contamination in the water in the surrounding area.
At-Large City Councilor James R. Adams said that he understands why other City Councilors want to monitor it, but that he thinks Westfield should remain out of the business of other towns.
“We bring trucks through other towns too without other towns telling us what to do,” said Adams.
Ward 1 City Councilor Nicholas J. Morganelli Jr. suggested that Westfield should communicate with Agawam, as they also border Southwick and may be affected by traffic as well.
“If we had one voice with Agawam, and they know where we stand on it, I think it might have more weight,” said Morganelli.
Ward 6 City Councilor William Onyski echoed Adams’ concerns about getting into the business of neighboring towns, but said that he would ultimately vote yes on the motion because it would only be to monitor the situation.
“Collectively, we don’t necessarily have an opinion. If it goes 7-6 in council, does that mean the city approves making a statement?” said Onyski.
At-Large City Councilor Dave Flaherty had similar concerns about telling other towns what to do. He said that Westfield would likely react poorly if Southampton or another neighboring community started telling Westfield what to do. He said he did not see what monitoring the situation would accomplish.
Councilors Beltrandi and Burns said that they had both been getting calls from constituents who are concerned about the Carvana project. Burns said that he thinks the city government should at least act to keep constituents informed of projects that may affect them, even if the project takes place in another community.
Bean reiterated that he does not see the motion as a way to tell Southwick what to do, but noted that the resulting truck and extra vehicle traffic from the proposed Carvana facility would “clearly” impact Westfield. He said that, in particular, it could impact traffic on Little River Road, Shaker Road, and College Highway going towards Westfield.
“The mayor is doing his due diligence now on this particular issue, so we can be prepared to address our roads,” said Bean.
Mello said that there is nothing in the motion that tells any other community what to do.
“This is bringing attention to the fact that another development in town that is going to affect traffic and a bridge we have taken ages to fix and is not going to be rated for what is going over it,” said Mello, referencing the Cowles Bridge, which is under construction and has a weight limit that bars vehicles like fire trucks from traversing over it.
The Cowles Bridge project is projected to take approximately five years to complete. At the June 29 Southwick Planning Board meeting, Rob Levesque of R. Levesque Associates said that the Carvana facility would use two different types of vehicle-carrying trucks to deliver cars. One type would simply carry one passenger vehicle at a time, while the other, larger truck could carry up to nine cars at once, which may put it over the Cowles Bridge weight limit.
“If we’re not willing to have the law department pay attention to another pollution source when we just blew $13 million on filters, what is going on? The law department needs to know what is happening,” said Mello.
The vote on Mello’s amendment to include the water and law departments in the monitoring of the Carvana project passed 11-2, with Councilor Adams and Councilor Ralph J. Figy giving the two “no” votes.
The full motion itself passed 10-3, with Flaherty joining Adams and Figy to vote against it.
The Carvana public hearing in Southwick’s Planning Board was continued to July 20 after the June 29 hearing went past 11 p.m. and was wrought with contention. There is no indication that a vote will take place that night.