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Preemptive Strike: Needham Rezones Prime Site To Prevent Possibility Of Amazon Facility

The WCVB TV studio, right, and the Muzi Motors car dealership off Route 128 in Needham.

Needham residents have voted to block a potential warehouse from being developed alongside Route 128, rezoning the properties where a TV station and car dealerships currently stand with no plans to move.

The vote, during the Boston suburb's Town Meeting Monday, updated zoning language to remove a warehouse as a use for the areas alongside the Interstate 95 southbound Highland Avenue exit. Town members voted 168-37 Monday to approve two articles addressing changes to the site's zoning language and zoning map, a city spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday. The updated zoning now allows for 870K SF of mixed-use commercial space and up to 240 housing units.

City officials in presentations last week made no mention of Amazon or e-commerce interest regarding the WCVB and Muzi Motors sites. The properties are approximately 17 miles west of Boston and were sought after by e-commerce giant Amazon for a potential distribution site, the Boston Globe reported.

“If we adopt Articles 5 and 6, then the town sets the zoning framework and the town controls the market," Needham Planning Board Member Adam Block said in a presentation last week. "We’re not beholden to developers demanding additional relief, and we’re able to negotiate town benefits from a position of strength."

The stretch alongside the Highland Avenue exit was receiving interest from players in the land-starved industrial market including Amazon, which has flirted with just about every potential warehouse site in the area, Colliers Research Analyst Dion Sorrentino said. 

“Within the 128 Belt, the development has been so dense, it’s hard to find open land sites to do anything like this,” Sorrentino said. “Historically, just the pricing, the finance behind an industrial site, prices an industrial user or developer out of that market.”

The zoning change is another development in the growing discontent among residents toward e-commerce distribution centers, which bring with them high volumes of delivery van and tractor-trailer traffic 24 hours a day. Amazon, which plans to open 34 warehouses across the state by the end of the year, dropped plans for a Braintree facility in 2019 after it received backlash from local businesses

Needham’s allowance of lab use in the zoning district is evidence of the growing acceptance of that property type by bedroom communities. A residential and commercial development at the Needham site would generate millions of dollars more in revenue for the city than a warehouse, Block argued in his presentation.

Related Topics: Amazon, e-commerce, Needham, Newton, MA