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Norfolk/Wrentham - Local Town Pages

Proposed Southwood Hospital Development

Dec 30, 2020 02:57PM ● By Peter Svalbe

Initial concept plan of the proposed Southwood development.

Most residents of this area are likely aware of the old decommissioned Caritas Southwood Hospital property in Norfolk (111 Dedham Street on 1A). Southwood is about 88 acres and has for many years remained unsold for redevelopment. The land is currently owned by the Archdiocese. The site has complex issues, including Tier 1 contamination per Mass DEP and protected streams and wetlands. It is also close to residential homes and a Zone 2 protected aquifer for public water. 

As a concerned resident, I want to get the word out about a recent development proposal for Southwood. On December 8th, an investment group presented a concept to the Planning Board for a 600,000 square foot distribution warehouse with adjacent 40B apartment buildings. The warehouse estimates are as follows: 77+ trailer bays, 318+ trailer parking spaces, and 600+ vehicle parking spaces. For the apartments, the plan includes 216 units with 456 parking spaces. 

During the presentation, we learned that the proposed warehouse could service a variety of distribution business models, including what are known as “last mile delivery” hubs. These 24/7 warehouses are utilized by e-commerce businesses as a center of distribution to the end customer (think Amazon, Wayfair, Target, Walmart, etc.). In short, large trailer trucks arrive at the site with delivery items. These items are processed, prepared, and loaded for customer delivery. A fleet of trucks and vans then deploy out to the surrounding area to deliver goods. 

The demand for “last mile delivery” centers has grown over the last few years, and the pandemic has only exacerbated the appetite for one-day delivery. Coincidentally, the December 6th edition of the Boston Sunday Globe featured an article about the growing number of distribution warehouse projects popping up throughout this region. It outlined some of the issues these projects cause in communities. It is not an exaggeration to say these warehouses have the potential to permanently alter the character of a town, region, and the quality of life for nearby residents. Search articles related to Milford and Dedham, two recent examples that unfortunately have had to deal with intense traffic and noise issues since those warehouses became operational.

I do support Norfolk’s goals to redevelop Southwood. Future hopes for the property are to establish additional commercial tax base and also add to Norfolk’s target 10% affordable housing inventory (as mandated by MGL Chapter 40B). However, the distribution warehouse concept, whether 600,000 sq. ft. or 300,000 sq. ft. (as in Milford), is deeply troubling. Given the end use will be a trucking and delivery operation, this will inevitably impact the immediate Pondville neighborhoods and also the wider area of Norfolk, Wrentham, and Walpole. Trucks and vans will need a route to and from Route 1, I-95, and I-495. This means heavy utilization of 1A into Wrentham and Walpole and 115 towards Foxborough and Millis. Any smaller cut-through streets will also be subject to these vehicles infiltrating neighborhoods to avoid traffic elsewhere. Residents near the Southwood site will also contend with noise emanating from a 24/7 operation of such a scale and magnitude we have not seen before. These are documented side effects in other towns that adopted this warehouse model. Additionally, the current proposal depicts a driveway towards the back of the property, on top of the existing railroad right-of-way. This may impact the proposed Metacomet Greenway, a multi-town recreational trail between Walpole, Norfolk, Wrentham and beyond.

Surely Norfolk may be losing patience with Southwood. It has been many years and several failed proposals from prospective buyers. The current proposal will certainly bring tax revenue and site clean-up (if properly overseen). But at what cost to the town, our roads, our neighbors, and our neighboring towns? We should be willing to wait as long as it takes to get the right type of project done here. The town only has one shot at this.

I believe that Norfolk’s first priority should be to revisit the strategy for site contamination cleanup at Southwood. Pondville residents and consumers of the Zone 2 well deserve a complete assessment to see what the impacts are to the surrounding areas and the environment, and for those issues to be remediated sooner rather than later. Until now, the approach has been to wait for a developer willing to pay the cleanup bill. This hasn’t worked because the costs become a limiting factor, discouraging more attractive design and build-out.

Next, I believe Norfolk should be more vocal about the type of plan it wants to see for Southwood. In my opinion, the site should include a mix of affordable units, 55+, healthcare/assisted living, light commercial, and greenspace. The taxes overall would be more valuable and the site would be more attractive compared to the large-scale distribution operation in the current proposal. It’s worth noting that Plainville had one such warehouse project in front of them and succeeded in modifying the plan into a biotech facility.  

If news of this project has you concerned as well, please contact the town to ask questions, express concerns, and get involved with the community input sessions starting this month. Key contacts for communication are Town Planner Rich McCarthy ([email protected]), Select Board Chair Kevin Kalkut ([email protected]), Planning Board Chair Walter Byron ([email protected]), and Town Administrator Blythe Robinson ([email protected]). For the community input session schedule, call 508-528-2961, or check the town’s website for announcements (https://norfolk.ma.us/).

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