WOBURN - The City Council recently okayed A.L. Prime's request to install a propane tank exchange at its newest East Woburn location off of Montvale Avenue.

During their latest gathering in City Hall, the aldermen in a 6-to-3 vote authorized a modification to a 2012 special permit issued to Wakefield-based A.L. Prime Energy that enables the discount petroleum retailer to install a 21-tank propane cabinet at 1 Hill St.

"I don't like propane at all, but this seems like a pretty safe way to do it They have plenty of room and space," said Ward 2 Alderman Richard Gately of the request.

According to local attorney Joseph Tarby, representing the petitioner, his client wants to install the cabinet by the gas station and convenience store's handicapped parking field. The placement will require customers to walk across the parking lot to speak to cashiers, but the petitioner pointed out that pedestrians are already safely criss-crossing the site in order to fuel up their cars.

Unlike a propane filling station, where employees fill-up empty tanks, the 21-tank exchange will allow customers to swap out an empty container for a full one. Such exchanges are a common amenity at a wide variety of area retailers, including by nearby supermarkets and pharmacies.

Under the system, customers will leave an empty tank by the storage area and walk to the convenience store, where they will pay attendants. The clerk will then walk with the customer to the locked cabinet, where he will swap out the empty tank for a full one.

"What we're seeking approval of is a revised site plan that shows a locked propane tank exchange cabinet. I think you've seen them all offer the place," said Tarby.

In Nov. of 2018, A.L. Prime opened a new convenience store and self-service gas station at the former Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) site by the former Kraft Foods Plant and McDonald's Restaurant off Montvale Avenue. The project will also reportedly include the construction of a four-story office building, which will serve as the company's new headquarters.

When first proposed in 2012, local officials and East Woburnites alike expressed concern about placing a gas station so close to Montvale Avenue's nexus to I-93, as they worried about already troublesome traffic patterns in the area becoming worse.

Ultimately requiring the petitioner to instate a number of traffic improvements, the council, pointing out a number of gas stations already exist along Montvale Avenue, okayed the RMV site redevelopment.

Since that time, the Atlantic Gelatin plant has closed, and the city has designated the 60-plus acre Kraft Foods site for a massive redevelopment containing high-end office space, housing, and a mix of retail uses.

According to City Council President Michael Anderson, while he is familiar with propane tank exchanges and has little issue with them, he's concerned about the placement of such a cabinet on Hill Street.

Specifically, he worried the metal cabinet would detract from the aesthetics of the area, which is slated for a marquee redevelopment.

"Is it next to an office building and the gateway to huge development containing bio-tech? That's what I'm struggling with," said Anderson, after AL Prime engineer Tony Gouba mentioned his company has placed similar propane exchanges at nearby gas stations.

Despite his comments, the City Council president ultimately voted in favor of the special permit modification.

Those opposing the petition included Ward 5 Alderman Darlene Mercer-Bruen, Ward 7 Alderman Lindsay Higgins, and Alderman at-large Michael Concannon.

Mercer-Bruen, whose district includes the AL Prime site, initially voiced apprehension about the modification, but later suggested she had become more comfortable with the proposal.

Aware that Gately and others were pushing for an immediate decision on the petition, instead of referring the matter of the committee, Mercer-Bruen advocated against that course-of-action. Concannon and Higgins shared Mercer-Bruen's concerns and wanted time to review the proposal in greater detail.

"I'm familiar with this type of operation. Whether or not it's appropriate for this site, we'll have to determine that," said the Ward 5 alderman. "There's a lot going on at that site. If we're voting on this tonight, I'm not going to vote in favor of it."

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