BURLINGTON - The fourth time was the charm for Tesla during their virtual hearing this past Thursday night, as the Planning Board approved the company’s minor engineering change application to install electric vehicle charging stations within an existing, underutilized area of the Burlington Mall parking lot.
The proposal really picked up steam after the planners and representatives of Tesla and the Burlington Mall met for a site walk this past Wednesday, which all parties involved said was “very helpful.” Four of the seven Planning Board members attended the site walk.
The approved proposal will see 12 Level 3 Fast Charging Stations highlight the project, just for Tesla vehicles. It usually takes 30-60 minutes to fully charge an electric vehicle. In addition to the 12 charging stations, there will be one light pole, three super-charger cabinets, one panel board, and one transformer installed. The super-charger cabinets convert the alternating current from the power grid to direct the current to charge the batteries of the vehicles.
Tesla adhered to the board’s location suggestions and relocated the proposal from along Burlington Mall Road to the southern side of The Village at Burlington Mall in the former Sears parking lot. The original location on Burlington Mall Road was met with disapproval from the planners, who didn’t like the clear sightline created as a result of the original location. The new location is a more secluded area of the former Sears parking lot along Middlesex Turnpike, but is not the part where snow is stored. The snow storage area of the lot isn’t preferred by the mall because they consider it an area where future development may take place.
The Burlington Mall location is believed to be an ideal spot for the charging equipment, due to the mall’s location and the need for Tesla charging stations in the area.
“This location is a great intersection at Rt. 3 and I-95 to help facilitate long-distance travel,” said Edward Noseworthy, of Tesla. “We currently have a gap in our network in this part of Massachusetts and there is a lot of Tesla traffic on I-95 and around Boston that needs to be serviced. This new location provides a good middle-ground for the location not being as visible or in the way of the mall’s traffic circulation, but is still close enough to the property’s amenities.”
The closest Tesla electric car charging station is north of Burlington in the Lynnfield Marketplace. There are already universal electric vehicle charging stations in the Burlington Mall parking lot, in the area of The Friendly Toast.
Noseworthy also pointed out the Burlington Mall location is perfect for Tesla because the electric vehicle and clean energy company gears its charging stations towards areas with nice amenities so users can take advantage of nearby shops and restaurants they can walk to.
Simon Properties, owner of the Burlington Mall, “steered” Tesla to this area of the parking lot with the objective of utilizing a parking area deemed “overflow” and “underutilized.”
The landscaping/screening plan for the charging stations will be robust, including a vast array of arborvitaes, junipers, shrubs, and other thick vegetation. A key condition in the board’s approval makes it mandatory for Tesla to have Planning Staff and the Planning Board chair review and sign-off on the final screening plan.
Conditions lead to approval
The board generally viewed the relocation a lot more favorably than the original proposal along Burlington Mall Road, but the majority of the planners made it known that they want the area to be adequately screened and the charging stations to be in-sync with a new initiative being brought forth by Planning Staff directly related to electric vehicle charging stations throughout Burlington.
Planning Board Chair Barbara L’Heureux briefed the public before the hearing resumed about Planning Staff’s comprehensive plan for such projects likely to become commonplace in Burlington, sooner than later.
“Staff is working on a comprehensive plan for charging stations throughout Burlington,” she detailed. “We need to come up with bylaws and a plan so we are ready for the changes we know are coming.”
The lone dissenting vote, board member William Gaffney, has talked about the likely reality in the very near future that the charging stations of today will be obsolete in the next five years, citing an article he recently read about electric cars and their batteries evolving by leaps and bounds to the point where 30-minute charging stations will be replaced by 5-minute gas station style electric charging settings.
“Technology is moving very quickly,” declared Gaffney. “Innovations for electric car batteries are evolving. There are talks of 5-minute electric car charging within the next 3-5 years. The evolution in the market is based on shorter charging times and longer distances traveled by electric cars. It is premature to approve this when we do not have a plan for electric vehicle charging stations. The way I see technology changing so quickly, I cannot support this project, as is.”
Other board members recognized Gaffney’s concerns, but still formally supported the proposal, declaring, “It is not enough” for them not to approve the charging stations.
“I support this plan, but we need to really focus and develop the comprehensive electric vehicle charging plan,” professed board member Brenda Rappaport.
Vice Chair Joseph Impemba reiterated his desire to ensure the area is screened properly and that the mall will provide sufficient security throughout the night in the area of the charging stations, which the mall confirmed will be the case. The charging stations will be open all day and night.
Planning Director Kristin Kassner expressed staff’s backing for the new addition to the mall.
“We support this amenity for the mall and all the recommended changes,” Kassner avowed “Hopefully, one day all the charging stations will be able to service all electric cars, no matter the brand.”
The board approved the minor engineering change by a 6-1 vote. Member Gaffney voted against.