New zoning bylaws complicate Chester armory development

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2014 – Telegraph Publishing LLC

An application for a conditional use permit to convert the former Army Reserve armory on Route 11 west for light manufacturing met with a friendly reception from Chester’s Development Review Board on Monday night. But a snafu in the new Unified Development Bylaws made the process more complicated than expected.

Peter and Nathalie Klepp of Springfield outlined their plan to move J&L Metrology from Clinton Street in Springfield to the armory building, which they bought for $200,000 from the federal government at auction earlier this year. The company, which makes optical inspection instruments, employs 12 full-time and two part-time employees  and divides its business between manufacturing new instruments and repairing, supporting and upgrading “legacy” instruments that were made in Springfield by Jones and Lamson since 1919.

Peter Klepp, co-owner of J&L Metrology, listens to a question from an audience member at Monday’s DRB hearing. Photo by Shawn Cunningham

The glitch arose early in Monday’s meeting, when the board reached the dimensional standards that outline lot sizes and setbacks. The board found that the building is larger than  allowed by the regulations for the newly created district.

The “Adaptive 3” district was created from the area surrounding the armory specifically “to take advantage of existing facilities.” The idea was to encourage the development of commercial and light industrial uses. The new district has a minimum lot size of 3 acres and a maximum lot coverage of 10 percent. And while the armory parcel is approximately 3.2 acres, the existing armory building and garage are about 16,000 square feet – covering 11.4 percent of the lot, making it a nonconforming structure and creating difficulties with the expansion envisioned by J&L.

Specifically, the Klepps would like to add an 1,800-square-foot covered loading dock to make it possible to load trucks with forklifts. The plan is to mirror the roof pitch and enclose the dock with sidewalls to make it look like the rest of the building. This would keep the snow and the rain off the dock. An additional 1,440-square-foot covered area linking the loading dock, garage and armory building would bring the lot coverage to 19,240 or 13.8 percent.

The Klepps' plan for the Chester Armory building, which they purchased at auction.

The Klepps’ plan for the Chester Armory building, which they purchased at auction. Click to enlarge

Board chair Carla Westine suggested that they look into the question of the lot coverage standard before the next meeting and move on with the rest of the items that needed review. Throughout the review process however, the board returned to the lot coverage standard as members suggested various ways to get around the limit including granting a waiver, allowing the conditional use and postponing construction of the loading dock until the Planning Commission can act and checking to see if the 10 percent limit might be a typographical error.  “This is a brand new document that hasn’t been test driven,” said Westine.

In outlining J&L’s operations, Peter Klepp said that the manufacturing staff will work from 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. four days a week, while the office staff works from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The company gets between one and four large trucks a week and two UPS delivery trucks a day.

Klepp also pointed out that the work done at the facility would not involve any hazardous materials or chemicals. The company uses a vegetable oil for cooling and lubricating in its milling operations and uses only water based paints. “We are very environmentally friendly,” said Klepp, “which is the right way to be, but also makes operating simpler.” Klepp noted that the operation needs no exhaust facilities and employees do not need to use respirators or other protections. This means fewer permits and less regulation. Klepp also said that with a large, south-facing roof, the company would be looking into a solar array, which he believes might be able to run the entire operation.

According to testimony given at the hearing, the 14,500-square-foot Armory building was constructed around 1958 with the 1,500 square foot garage added in 1980. At various times, the complex was home to military police and medical units until the Army “took the flag down” in 2011. At various times, the complex was offered to the town of Chester, but the was not accepted.

The next meeting to consider J&L’s permit application will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 24 at 6 p.m. at Town Hall.

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