WOBURN - Burlington-based Lahey Health Systems wants to retrofit a small section of a Presidential Way office building into an emergency COVID-19 testing facility before an anticipated spike in pandemic-related infections hits the region later this fall and winter.
According to a memo submitted to the City Council last Friday from Murtha Cullina attorney Joseph Tarby, Beth Israel/Lahey Health Systems (BILH) will seek a special permit to establish a 2,400 square foot testing laboratory within an office park at 8 Presidential Way, which is situated a short distance from I-93 and the Wilmiington line.
Lahey Hospital, which merged with Beth Israel in 2019 to form the state's second-largest network of hospitals and health care providers, has been leasing space within the two-story office building since 2017. It has obtained previous special permits from the council with relative ease, but as Tarby noted in his message, the drive-through component of his client's request will likely trigger a more involved review of Woburn's Zoning Ordinance.
"To prepare for the expected second surge of the Coronavirus, BILH is proposing to erect an approximately 2,400 square foot COVID-19 testing facility at 8 Presidential Way in order to diagnosis
outpatients for coronavirus," Tarby explained.
"The testing use appears to be an allowed use under Section 5.1(33a) of the Woburn Zoning Ordinance. However, a special permit may be required for vehicles to drive through the facility. We will discuss this further with [Building Commissioner] Tom Quinn, Jr.," the Woburn lawyer continued.
The council is expected to take up the matter on Tuesday night under the "new petitions" portion of its meeting, which will begin at 7 p.m. and is being held virtually Zoom.
Customarily, the aldermen vote to set-up a public hearing for all new special permit applications received since their last meeting, but in rare circumstances, the elected officials will offer their opinions about matters-of-importance before taking that action.
Notably, with officials from the Mass. Department of Public Health (DPH) already tracking a steady rise in new COVID-19 cases over the past few weeks, BILH is asking the council to expedite the review and approval process.
As Tarby explained, his client believes predictions about forthcoming second wave of COVID-19 transmissions necessitates that special consideration.
"[G]iven the seriousness of the pandemic and the urgency to proceed forward immediately to establish this facility, we respectfully request your approval to move forward with this project while we finalize the approach for final approvals with the Building Commissioner," he wrote last week.
Situated in close proximity to I-93, the property in questions is part of a larger 14-acre parcel off of Presidential Way that was long utilized by Connecticut-based Porter and Chester Institute, which shuttered a Woburn trade school campus back in 2017.
Just a few months ago, the City Council granted 8 Presidential Way landowner Presidential Ventures LLC permission to erect a new four-story addition onto the existing 104,000 square foot office building, which is used as BILH's information technology headquarters.
Back in 2018, the City Council okayed the initial special permit that enabled Lahey Health System's move to Presidential Way by allowing the creation of a new parking area with 250 parking spaces. At the time, Lahey Hospital's merger with Beth Israel had been proposed but not yet approved by state regulators.