Pause on large developments sought during Master Plan process

SOUTHWICK — The Planning Board may consider a proposal received from a Save Southwick member that would place a moratorium on all new major developments in Southwick until the Master Plan can be completed.

Save Southwick’s Diane Gale made the proposal to the board with an Oct. 15 letter in which she requests that “major development projects seeking special permit approval, site plan approval, or other approvals that may otherwise come before the Planning Board” be paused while the Master Plan Advisory Committee forms a new Master Plan proposal over the next two years.

“In light of the special permit application brought before the town this past summer for an extraordinary regional automobile distribution center, it is clear that the Master Plan will be a critical undertaking in determining the direction for growth in the town of Southwick,” said Gale in her letter, referring to the Carvana proposal. “To approve a major development of this sort before that direction can be finalized could have immeasurable adverse impacts on the town’s future.”

Gale said that she and Planning Board Chair Michael Doherty had spoken multiple times about the moratorium and possible changes to bylaws for town planning. When she refers to “major developments” in Southwick, she laid out specific criteria for what kinds of development should be put on hold.

Some of the criteria includes any new residential, commercial, or industrial uses expected to generate at least 750 vehicle trips per day, any commercial or industrial building of more than 60,000 square feet, and any uses that create more than 50 dwelling units. The proposed 100-unit residential development at 42 Depot St. may fall under at least one of these categories. It is not clear if Gale’s proposal would include developments already being considered by the Planning Board or Conservation Commission, or if it would only apply to future proposals.

At the Oct. 19 Planning Board meeting, Doherty indicated that he supported Gale’s proposal, but that he was open to modifying the plan. He also pointed out that the Water Commission’s moratorium on new large water connections basically accomplishes the same thing, though that could be lifted sooner than the completion of the Master Plan, which could take two years or more.

Gale set a proposed end date for the moratorium of June 30, 2024, though that is one factor that could be changed.

Planning Board member David Sutton questioned the proposal, citing the high tensions in Southwick after the backlash against the Carvana project this spring and summer. He said he would be more willing to consider the idea outright if the Carvana situation had not just taken place. He said that he wanted to fully read through the proposal and come back to the table at the Planning Board’s next meeting when he has a better understanding.

A public hearing may have to take place in the Planning Board, and if they approve it the proposal would then need to go into the annual Town Meeting warrant to be voted on by residents next spring.

Doherty said to Sutton that he thinks the moratorium will help to avoid another situation like Carvana while the Master Plan committee decides on a vision for Southwick’s developmental future.

“Look at Carvana. There was a development many people didn’t want, but the bylaws didn’t let us do anything about it,” said Doherty, “I would hate for something that would be divisive to come in the meantime, while the Master Plan process is going forward.”

Associate Planning Board member Jessica Thornton said that one possible consequence of the proposal would be that developers seeking to build in Southwick may make a mad rush to get their proposals in before the moratorium is voted on or takes effect. She also noted that an attempt to develop a Master Plan for Southwick failed in the 1990s, and questioned whether another failure to adopt one could mean that the moratorium remains in place indefinitely.

Doherty said that the moratorium would have to have a firm end date that isn’t tied to the completion of the Master Plan, but still coincides with when it is expected to be finished.

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