Council votes down airport storage plan

Ward 3 Councilor Bridget Mathews-Kane. (FILE PHOTO)

WESTFIELD – After lengthy discussions in two prior meetings and a 2-1 recommendation for approval from the License iommittee, the CIty Council voted 8 to 5 on Dec. 17 not to permit Westfield Barnes Airport to lease the former Whip City Raceway parking area to Home Depot for temporary storage of 280 empty trailers.

The lease would have brought approximately $150,000 in revenue to the city for the six-month storage.

Councilors Bridget Matthews-Kane, Kristen Mello and Dave Flaherty persuaded the majority that the use in the water resource protection area was not benign, and also not allowed under the conditions of the special permit.

Matthews-Kane, the dissenting vote on the License Committee’s recommendation, pointed to findings in the permit that no parking, storage or maintenance of motor vehicles be allowed unless on a solid surface. Matthews-Kane argued that under the definitions, the trailers are motor vehicles, and the hard pack of ground pavement, while impervious, was not a solid surface.

Mello talked about the need for plowing and the impact of road salt coming off the trailers and the 30 truck trips to and from the site in the aquifer district. She said although storage was not scheduled to begin until March, both snow and ice storms occur after that date. She said a study by the Barnes Aquifer Protection Advisory Committee in 2005, before it disbanded, showed salt impacts on 15 of 25 private wells in the district. In addition, she said the Raceway is shown on a natural heritage site map.

At-large Councilor Kristen L. Mello (THE WESTFIELD NEWS FILE PHOTO)

Mello asked if the city doesn’t follow its own laws to protect the water resource area, how can they demand that others protect it, and reminded the councilors the city has active lawsuits against past polluters of the aquifer. “I would implore that if we would not follow our own ordinances, we have zero integrity asking anyone else to follow this,” Mello said.

Flaherty said he had originally viewed the plan as a pre-existing, non-conforming use because spectators to the Raceway formerly used the parking area. However, he said the Building Dept. had determined that it is a new use requiring a special permit in the water resource area. “Now that it’s triggered, the water resource area has very strict restrictions. I agree with Councilor Mello – we have a $100 million lawsuit about polluting water. We have to follow the law; we have the water resource district for a reason,” he said.

At-large Councilor Dan Allie, who voted to support the use along with Councilors James R. Adams, John J. Beltrandi III, Nicholas J. MorganelliJr.  and William Onyski, said describing a trailer as a motor vehicle is inconsistent.

“With these empty trailers, to me this is still a lawful use. This is a parking area, a pre-existing use. The trailers are not storing anything; they’re empty,” Allie said, adding that he believed the potential for contamination was slight, an opinion voiced by the majority in previous discussions.

“I have a concern about the aquifer, but I still see this as a lawful pre-existing use,” Allie added.

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