WOBURN - The City Council authorized a rare one-year extension to a special permit that enables a high-tech battery manufacturer to stash three storage containers at its Commerce Way headquarters.
During a recent gathering in City Hall, the City Council unanimously agreed to let 10 Commerce Way's Ionic Materials to keep three exterior storage pods by the rear of its Woburn Mall area property, but demanded that the shipping boxes be removed from the industrial site within the next 12 months.
"I'm so glad to hear your business is growing. That's fabulous," said Ward 5 Alderman Darlene Mercer-Bruen to the applicant. "But we don't all these storage pods just because your business is growing. It's a temporary thing, so as time goes on, you need to look for a bigger space."
More than a year ago, Ionic Materials moved into a small commercial space within one of two newer industrial buildings situated within the 13-acre parcel right behind the Woburn Mall. In total, there is more than 202,000 square feet of office and warehouse space within those structures.
After making the move, Ionic Materials officials realized Woburn's zoning code forbids the permanent placement of shipping containers in the underlying zoning district. Notified about the compliance issue, the company petitioned the City Council in March of 2018 for a special permit to temporarily allow the storage units to stay for the next 12 months.
During the most recent council meeting, Ionic Materials representative Helen Higgins explained that her firm, which is designing new polymer technology that could eventually revolutionize the current lithium-ion battery market, has drastically expanded since last spring.
In fact, the Commerce Way business has doubled the size of its headquarters from 18,000 to 36,000 square feet, and company officials are presently in talks with Cummings Properties for the use of even more office space.
"We've grown again by another 18,000 square feet, but we still don't have enough storage. So we'd like to keep these pods outside for at least another year," Higgins explained. "What's in the pods right now is furniture…We also have some building materials in a pod right now."
Mercer-Bruen, whose district includes the Commerce Way industrial park, was initially inclined to deny the special permit extension, as the City Council has in recent years been cracking down on landlords who allow storage pods to be stashed on their sites for multiple years.
However, the petitioner, imploring the city officials to grant an exception to its 12-month standard, insisted that her firm was close to finding the office space it needs ti accommodate all of its operational needs.
"By the end of this year, we'll have every inch of that space built out for manufacturing," said Higgins of Ionic Materials' existing headquarters. "We are in conversations with Cummings Properties to take an adjacent space of 20,000 square feet, but that won't be available until 2020."
In light of those plans, Mercer-Bruen and City Council President Michael Anderson both agreed that a one-year extension — rarely granted by the aldermen — could be justified.
"So they will no doubt be gone in a year," Anderson said.
"So you understand, within one year, they have to be gone. And you can't be coming here again, at least not for storage containers," Mercer-Bruen added.