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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Worcester endorses zoning change as neighbors resist CSXT expansion

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CSX Transportation's plan to expand its freight yard between Shrewsbury and Franklin streets in Worcester, Mass., gained more momentum after the Planning Board last night endorsed a zone change and to street layouts essential to the expansion project modifications, the Telegram & Gazette reports. By a 4-0 vote, the board recommended changing the zoning of roughly three acres along the CSXT railroad tracks to manufacturing-general.

Joel Fontane, director of the city's Planning and Regulatory Services Division, said the zone change would formally recognize that tracks and a freight yard already exist in that area and allow for appropriate expansion of that use. The board also backed the closing of Putnam Lane from Franklin Street to the railroad tracks, and a revised layout for Franklin Street, from Grafton Street to Suffolk Street. The closing of Putnam Lane is needed to make room for more rail lines.

The changes to Franklin Street, meanwhile, are necessary because part of the project involves construction of an overpass so trucks and containers can move from the rail lines to the CSXT freight yard without having to go on city streets. The work on Franklin Street also involves new sidewalks, street takings and abandonment, and alteration to underground utilities.

The one aspect that the Planning Board failed to reach a consensus on was rezoning roughly 7.5 acres at 15 and 17 Putnam Lane from residential-limited to manufacturing-general.

Fontane said the area previously had been zoned manufacturing-general, but the City Council changed it to residential several years ago. He said changing it back to manufacturing would make the area consistent with abutting manufacturing uses.

But that proposal drew opposition from some abutters and neighborhood leaders. Steven J. Tankanow, president of the Bancroft School of Massage Therapy in the old Coca-Cola bottling plant at Shrewsbury Street and Putnam Lane, said he does not want to stand in the way of progress, but he opposed that zone change because of the negative impact it will have on his building.

He pointed out that the new rail lines will be 10 feet from his building and, as a result, he fears the project will exacerbate drainage and air quality issues in the area, devalue his property and make it more difficult to attract tenants.

Leonard Ciuffredo, chairman of the Brown Square Neighborhood Crime Watch, also accused the city of "putting the cart before the horse" by pursing the zone changes before CSXT has even acquired the properties.

"CSXT does not own all the properties it needs, yet the city is moving forward on the zone changes," Ciuffredo said. "I am a little concerned about that timing."

George Kerxhalli, chairman of the Grafton Hill Business Association, and Jo Hart, a local transportation advocate, also spoke out against the zone change, contending that the city is moving too quickly on the project.

"The city has been known to shoot itself in the foot, but with this, it is shooting itself in the heart," Hart said. "It's absolutely maniacal what they are doing."

The Planning Board split 2-2 on the zone change for Putnam Lane, with Anne O'Connor and Stephen Rolle supporting it and Scott Cashman and Satya Mitra voting in opposition.

The Planning Board's actions serve as recommendations to the council, which has final say on all zoning matters. The council will hold its own public hearing on the Planning Board's recommendations.

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