Development project eyes Westfield as the potential `hub’ of data center market

Community Development Director Peter J. Miller (THE WESTFIELD NEWS FILE PHOTO)

WESTFIELD – A new potential development project that would turn Westfield into the hub of the data center market in the Northeast is about to go through the local permitting process, and city leaders are very excited about it.
Listed under Servistar Realties, LLC, the project is the Westfield Data Center Campus at 199 Servistar Industrial Way. Designed to be built in a zoned Industrial A and Industrial Park area spanning 155 acres, the project will include an expected 10 three-story data center buildings totaling 2.7 million square feet of data center space, two accessory buildings and additional site improvements to be built out over a 12 to 18 year-period.
The data center campus is an anticipated $2.7 billion project.
Community Development Director Peter J. Miller said for the city this is an exciting opportunity. He said the first meetings on the project were conducted in early April, when Eric J. Bartone of Servistar Realties met with him and Mayor Donald F. Humason, Jr. confidentially to talk through whether this is something in which they were interested.
“Obviously, we were interested. The potential revenue for the city going forward is significant. Within the first three years, they would be the largest taxpayer in the city, never mind future phases,” Miller said. He said anticipated tax revenue within three years would be $1.2 million.
“This is the first thing we’ve had on the north side that hasn’t tipped the two primary challenges we’ve had; number one being traffic. It will not be a high generator of traffic. Number two, it will not be a major polluter. The last project proposed for the site was a natural gas power plant,” he added.
“This one we feel really hits that sweet spot we need to develop new economic opportunities and jobs. You’re talking about up to 400 jobs, all of which are technical in nature and high-paying jobs for our community. Those two things are a really big deal here, and the fact that it doesn’t come with significant truck traffic. Every big project in the last four or five years has involved truck traffic, and this has not,” Miller said.
“I’m in favor of this for so many reasons,” said Humason. He said he has lived in Westfield all his life, and for so many years, heard people on the north side say they felt disrespected by all of the development, which has involved mostly warehousing and trucking.
“We’ve been looking for that ‘unicorn.’ This is the greatest project to fit into the space that we have. No warehouses, no trucks, no discharges into air, water, land; just electricity and data. It’s clean. It’s green. I envision glass and steel buildings, the many jobs that accompany that, as well as the tax revenue for the city,” Humason said, adding, “The only traffic moving here is the traffic that’s moving through data lines.”
Miller said the project would be difficult due to wetlands and the aquifer in the project area. However both Miller and Humason say the principals are fully aware of the environmental challenges, and are committed to going through the process.
According to the project’s description, three of the parcels, consisting of 52 acres, are primarily wetlands and portions of the project area are located on the aquifer. These parcels totaling more than one third of the project area have no planned development in order to mitigate environmental impacts. The remaining two thirds of the project area is characterized by a diversity of ownership of plots, three of which are subdivided portions of parcels, and irregular lot sizes that also contain wetlands in various areas making it very difficult and costly to develop.
“They know the site. They can lay out their development in such a way as to have an acceptable impact. There is nothing going into the ground and water with discharges,” Humason explained.
The site is also considered blighted due to the abundant amount of distribution centers and heavy 18 wheeler truck traffic that puts a strain on the local infrastructure, causing damaged roads, potholes, traffic congestion as well as litter and garbage being discarded on the roadways in the area. According to the project description, the conditions in and around the project area have become detrimental to the safety, health, morals, welfare and sound growth of the community in which it is situated.
Both the environmental challenges and blighted conditions are factors in the project seeking a special tax assessment through Chapter 121A of the Mass General Law, which Miller said is the mechanism to allow them to enter into a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement with the city.
Miller said local taxation is a major issue in order for the project to locate in Westfield. He said there is such a high demand as a user of electricity, and so much personal property tax associated with the business in terms of all of the equipment, servers, switches and hardware associated with processing the data. That’s why the project will be in front of the City Council seeking a Chapter 121A agreement, he said.
Two dates have already been set. On Sept. 7, there will be an informational hearing on the project in front of the Planning Board, and on Sept. 16, will be a joint public hearing in front of the Planning Board and City Council for the Chapter 121A agreement. Miller said there is a timeline on the 121A agreement, and the city has until November to make a final call on it.
Conservation and site plan permitting will go through a separate path, and both the Conservation Commission and Planning Boards are looking at this calendar year.
Miller said he and the Mayor put in the legwork to get to this point. “Public hearings at the Planning Board and City Council is where the rubber meets the road, and we’re going to figure out whether this can happen or not,” he said.
“I’ve thought about it a lot, and I’ve tried to figure out what the downside to this will be, and I can’t find one. This is a game changer for the city in both finances and economic growth. It changes the kind of industry that looks at us and we’re hopeful this sets us up for a future where more of these tech offerings are available to us,” Miller added.
“This is the type of development that Westfield deserves and we should get. I think the more people learn about it the more they’re going to like it,” Humason said, adding, “I’ve got to say, I love it.”

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