Werfen Says Expansion Will Restore Some Elm Brook Frontage

November 9, 2022

Representatives of a major local employer at 180 Hartwell Road told the Conservation Commission last week that a proposed two-story addition actually will restore former natural areas along Elm Brook.

Werfen (formerly Instrumentation Laboratory) wants to demolish an existing warehouse and replace it with 118,000 square feet of office and laboratory space. Plans call for 157 parking spaces beneath the elevated building.

Jeff Koetteritz, engineer with VHB, enumerated what he said are project benefits: reduction of impervious surface, restoration of riverfront area, increased flood overflow storage, and improved stormwater disposal.

The commission unanimously approved standard orders of conditions for the project. 

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“Bedford should be excited to have this company in town,” said Attorney Pam Brown, representing Werfen. She noted that the Hartwell Road facility is the North American headquarters of the international firm, which provides “innovative specialized diagnostics to hospitals and clinical labs around the world.”

Scores of scientists and engineers will be added to the local workforce, she said.

The site discussed is in the rear of the complex, not visible from the street, Koetteritz said. Elm Brook runs along the west side.

“A significant part of the site is in riverfront area and within the 100-year flood zone,” said Laura Laich, VHB environmental scientist. “The brook is quite channelized, but naturally vegetated. There’s a lot of good habitat. Werfen wants to protect the area as best we can.”

The proposed building has a slightly larger footprint than the current warehouse, but it will be elevated, “so it’s a floodable first level” of parking, Laich said. “The occupiable space is specifically above the flood plain.”

She pointed out that some currently paved areas near the brook will be restored to “naturalized habitat with native plantings and a lot more wildlife value.” There will be no impact to the brook or nearby wetlands, she said. Koetteritz noted that plans call for reduction of almost 9,000 square feet in impervious surface.

Laich also said new stormwater management BMPs (best management practices) will be installed, including a retention basin. Koetteritz noted that the Department of Public Works engineers are satisfied with stormwater plans.

There’s a footbridge across Elm Brook that a generation ago provided pedestrian passage for hundreds of Raytheon Missile Systems Division workers crossing from their cars to what is now Werfen.

The parking lot is now the Hartwell Farms townhouse complex.

Werfen plans to remove a walkway to the bridge. “We had not included removing the bridge because it is dual ownership and not entirely on the owner’s property here,” Koetteritz said.

Commission member Frank Richichi noted that he worked in the Raytheon building 50 years ago. “The bridge is in horrible shape and it’s not clear who owns that. It wouldn’t wash away or break down, but could be a hazard. If your end of the bridge is in disrepair, is it within the scope of the project to deal with it?” Koetteritz replied, “It’s really a question of who owns and who will pay.”

Brian Reiss, facilities manager at Werfen, agreed that “there’s an ownership component that needs to be sorted out.” But he said, “We’re willing to entertain whatever the commission decides to be done with it.”

Koetteritz noted that the DPW also would like to see the bridge removed. An attorney for Hartwell Farms, Michel Wigney, said the residents support the Werfen expansion – and removal of the bridge, if Werfen pays to do that. Richichi commented that removal could be limited to the span, not the footings.

Brown said, “I’d love to handle it as part of this rather than come back with another notice of intent.” 

Commission Chair Steve Hagan suggested that the commission could grant an advance permit to work in wetlands and buffer zones so the work could be combined with the expansion project.

Conservation Director Jeffrey Summers said he needs a written plan on how the bridge will be removed. He said he will include the work in the order of conditions.

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Mark Mullins
November 13, 2022 8:48 pm

A few points. Werfen’s engineer, VHB, says “there will be no impact to the brook or nearby wetlands.” But most of the building will be constructed *in the flood plain*, which is why the first floor is designed to be “floodable.” So clearly this project has a major impact on the brook and wetlands. The building also has a larger footprint, which means filling the floodplain; the water that would have been absorbed by that filled area will need to go somewhere.

The engineer says “Werfen wants to protect the area as best we can”. However, according to their site plans the proposed parking does not conform with current bylaws, which require 10% indoor parking. Providing more indoor parking, by constructing a multi-level parking garage, would mean a smaller parking lot. Some of the existing parking lot could then be removed and converted back to wetlands/floodplain. That would “protect the area”, and in fact the Town’s bylaws require more indoor parking than this project provides. But Werfen got a pass on this. How come?

Even better, the building could be constructed in the existing parking lot. With a parking garage, they could get the same number of parking spaces. Then the existing building could be demolished entirely and that land could be converted back to a floodplain.

Finally, eight of the nine direct quotes in this article are from Werfen and their consultants, VHB and Brown. Readers really only get Werfen’s statements. Would be nice to get a different perspective on this major project.

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