WOBURN - Awaiting a City Hall review of various revised project details, the Planning Board recently continued until next week a public hearing on a proposed pharmaceutical company expansion on Cabot Road.
During their latest virtual meeting, the appointed officials at the advice of Planning Director Tina Cassidy voted unanimously to revisit the petition from Continnus Pharmaceuticals until next Tuesday.
Last July, when the planners first considered the petition, Cassidy noted that various department heads had lodged a series of questions about the expansion, which notably includes the storage and disposal of various chemicals and hazardous materials during the drug-making process.
Though the petitioner has since addressed most of those questions with revised site plans, explanations of hazmat procedures, and additional stormwater treatment engineering details, the planning director argued more time was needed to review those materials.
“The feedback the Planning Board received from various city departments ranged from questions around the nature and quantity of materials to be used as part of the manufacturing process to the design to prevent groundwater contamination given the project’s proximity to the Industriplex site,” Cassidy, referring to the last departmental review over the summer, explained at the latest meeting.
“Supplemental information was submitted to this office last Tuesday, but to date, we have only receive one response from [department heads]. For that reason, at the conclusion of tonight’s discussion, I’m going to recommend that the board continue the public hearing.”
The Woburn-based startup, a 2012 spin-off from a joint research venture between MIT and Novartis, is seeking permission to quintuple the size of the manufacturing space within a two-story building at 32 Cabot Road off Commerce Way. Under the proposal, which will enable the firm to mass produce medicines and vaccines, the production area would jump from 7,440 square feet to 37,728 square feet.
Continnus officials, who operate two other engineering and research and development facilities within Woburn, also want to construct a 7,000 square foot addition and a “utility” structure to store warehouse vehicles and equipment at the six-plus-acre site.
The proposed reconfiguration of the two-story office building to allow for a greater mix of manufacturing space is allowed via a special permit within the underlying industrial zoning district.
While the Planning Board is considering that aspect of the petition, the City Council is considering simultaneous special permit applications to allow for what’s considered a “high-hazard” use within a groundwater protection district.
The Cabot Road facility, a 50,000 square foot building that can be viewed by passersby on Commerce Way, sits between the Woburn Village redevelopment and the sprawling Industriplex Superfund site that runs all the way to the Wilmington line.
During the latest public hearing, Planning Board member James Callahan continued to ask questions about the petitioner’s use of a rear loading dock area and a new chemicals storage area situated off the proposed new addition.
The use of those hazardous materials are essential to Continuus Pharmaceuticals entire business plan, as the company is attempting to reduce domestic reliance on overseas supply chains by manufacturing high-end drugs from start-to-finish at the new Woburn production site.
If granted the needed special permits by the city, the Cabot Road plant would reportedly become the only place in the world where pharmaceuticals can be mass produced from start to finish without relying on the importation of so-called “active pharmaceutical ingredients” or APIs.
Though various city officials have praised that mission in light of worldwide supply chain disruptions, Callahan and others want to make sure that Continuus’ expansion includes the proper emergency systems to prevent a disastrous release of chemicals into surrounding wetlands.
“My questions last meeting were about the valves and various controls for that valving. How do they interact to prevent an inadvertent leak into our waterways?…The overall plan I don’t have a problem with. I’m concerned about hazardous materials leaving the site,” the Planning Board member said at the latest meeting.
According to Joe Weed, the petitioner’s civil engineer, all stormwater by the loading dock and chemical waste areas will be collected and then either tested or visually inspected before being released into the property’s larger stormwater treatment system.
As a safety precaution, he and project design manager Ed Flagg later explained, an emergency shutoff valve is also being situated by the rear of the site to prevent any spills from flowing into the stormwater collection area while chemicals are being delivered, stored, or disposed of.
“Where the loading dock is, that will be our containment area for all our hazardous materials,” said Flagg. “Any spill will head towards that loading dock and any time there’s movement of materials, those valves will be locked.”