January 30 2019

Town Meeting Passes Life Science Warrant Article

By: Rich Hosford

A Town Meeting warrant article intended to make Burlington more attractive to life science companies passed overwhelmingly on Monday night.


Article 2 proposed changes to the Zoning Bylaw to change definitions and alter requirements listed under the Maximum Floor Area Ratio to make it easier for life science companies and their laboratories to locate in town and be approved under town guidelines.


Planning Director Kristin Kassner said the bylaw changes were important for Burlington’s continued economic development as life sciences are the biggest trend in the Boston area with Cambridge considered to be the world leader in the field. However, due to rising prices in rents and a section of the workforce who would prefer to work outside of the city, Kassner said Burlington is in a prime location to lure high-tech life science companies to town.


“We need to be thinking about what’s next,” she said. “We’re not seeing a lot of interest so we asked what is in our regulations that is putting companies off? Burlington has amenities, is close to research institutions, is close to hospitals and is accessible, so why not more coming to town?”

One factor, she concluded, was that Burlington does not have zoning areas where biotech and life science companies can open “by right” and that this bylaw change would address that issue.


Town Meeting members seemed in favor of the proposal though there were a couple of questions, mostly about community safety. Under the bylaw the town prohibits the presence of Biosafety Level 4 laboratories as defined by the Centers for Disease Control.


“You can think of Biosafety Level 4 as things they would use in warfare,” Board of Health Vice Chair Edward Weiner explained. “These are organisms that aren’t used in normal research and we would never allow them in this community to put this community in risk.”


However, as a couple of Town Meeting members pointed out, the bylaw does allow Biosafety Level 3 laboratories, which, under the regulations, include research on some dangerous things like West Nile Virus and Yellow Fever.


Dr. Weiner said that unlike industries of old in town that contaminated Burlington’s soil and water, modern life science companies operate under numerous regulations and with a large focus on safety.


“This is a clean industry - they don’t want to expose the public or themselves to anything dangerous,” he said. “Anything can happen and can happen anywhere but we work closely with these companies as well as with other agencies to ensure safety.”


Click here to read the full warrant article.


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