January 28 2020

Town Meeting Approves Zoning Bylaw Changes to Help Attract Biotech Companies

By: Rich Hosford

Town Meeting voted to approve a set of warrant articles meant to help attract more life science and biotech companies to town. 


The first of the articles changed the requirements of projects in High Rise Industrial (IH) zoning. The other three then changed the zoning of three existing sites to IH to allow them to take advantage of the new zoning regulations. 


The article was championed by Planning Director Kristin Kassner and attorney Robert Buckley of Riemer & Braunstein. They said the zoning change was part of an ongoing effort to make the town more appealing to biotech companies which represent one of the fastest growing industries in the state. They pointed out that while Burlington has attracted some big names like Millipore, when compared to surrounding towns it falls short in the number of life science companies in town. 


“A year ago I was here talking about life science and why it wasn’t here in Burlington,” Kassner said. “We have been a donut hole to what is a $10 billion industry in the state.” 


Part of the effort to close the gap was to apply for and receive a platinum rating by the industry agency MassBio. Part of that was to have a type of district that biotech companies could locate in “by right” or without the need for a special permit. Those behind the effort chose the IH zoning districts to fill this purpose. 


The issue, however, was that under the current zoning requirements for IH there were only three sites in town that fit the category: The Burlington Marriott, the Hilton Garden Inn and part of the Oracle site. None of these are likely to switch occupancy anytime soon. 


The three sites that were approved to change to IH were 400-600 Summit Drive owned by the Gutierrez Company, 3 Van de Graaff Drive owned by American Landmark III LLC and 60 Blanchard Road owned by 60 Blanchard Owner LLC, an entity created by the Nordblom Company. 


The changes to the IH zoning including reducing the maximum height of buildings (from 155 feet to 90 feet) and allowing for less space around each building. It also emphasizes creating under-building parking when possible. This, proponents said, would help create a more campus feel to the properties and allow for more greenspace and walkability. 


Buckley said that while the property owners don’t have specific businesses lined up for the sites his office had already received calls from potential clients asking if the zoning change was likely to go through. 


Finally, a concern raised in the last couple months by Board of Health members about a potential loophole in the “by right” language was reportedly addressed. Initially there was some concern that because a business wouldn’t need a special permit after a biotech company was approved with a site plan future biotech companies could occupy the same site without the normal oversight of the Board of Health through the Planning Board. Board of Health Chair Edward Weiner said the board had adopted its own regulations for biotech and life sciences companies and any new company coming to town would need to get their approval before being able to occupy the site.


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