Woburn eases permit rules for research and testing companies

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Woburn has removed a special permit requirement for research and testing operations that open in existing buildings in the city’s industrial and office park zones, making research and testing a “by-right” use.
On Nov. 21, the City Council unanimously approved a zoning amendment sponsored by Council President Richard Haggerty and Councillor Edward Tedesco to make the change, while retaining the special permit requirement for laboratories that include new buildings with more than 25,000 square feet, in order to mitigate potential impacts of new development on residents.
Haggerty said altering the city’s 1985 zoning ordinances was a team effort with Mayor Scott Galvin and Planning Director Tina Cassidy, who realized, after inquiries from prospective businesses and landlords, that there was an inconsistency in the city’s requirements. Biomedical facilities are allowed by-right in industrial and office park zones, but research and testing facilities, which can include medical, robotics and other industries, required a special permit to locate in those same zones.
“What we were seeing was existing buildings that have state-of-the-art lab space, and they’re out there marketing this space but eventually would have to come before us and get additional approval,” Haggerty said. “That’s an additional level of bureaucracy that they shouldn’t have to deal with.”
The city’s industrial and office park zones are generally located on the east side of the city along interstates 93 and 95, away from the residential zones that are around the business districts along Route 38 through the middle of the city and on the west side.
“We want it basically to be turn-key [for those uses],” Haggerty said. “It sends a clear message we want them to do well here, when they want to expand a business.”
Haggerty said research and testing businesses are a focus for his city,  one of only 27 communities in Massachusetts to earn a Platinum BioReady rating from the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council.
Woburn has the advantage of being located at the intersection of I-93 and I-95 and has the Massport-owned Anderson Regional Transportation Center, which has 30 commuter rail departures to Boston each weekday, a stop on Amtrak’s Downeaster service, and Logan Express service to the airport.
“We view that area really as the next stage of big growth in our city,” Haggerty said. “We’re already seeing a lot of life science and bio companies coming into the city.
“We’ve always tried to make an effort to make our city welcoming to life science companies, bio companies, anybody in that space. We want to let them know we’re open for business.”