Phillipston Planning Board to seek answer to agricultural use question  

  • Chris Pirner, center, speaks with Phillipston’s Planning Board about his hopes of establishing a woodyard on Royalston Road, on the former site of White’s Junkyard. From left, backs to camera, Planning Board members Gordon Robertson and Vern Lussier, Chair Bernie Malouin, and member John Telepciak. Greg Vine

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 11/5/2019 9:50:22 PM
Modified: 11/5/2019 9:50:15 PM

PHILLIPSTON – Chris Pirner of Pirner Logging and Land Clearing of Hubbardston told members of the Planning Board Monday night that he was interested in purchasing property on Royalston Road once occupied by what is known as White’s Junkyard. He told the board, however, that he’s moving cautiously until several questions can be answered.

“It’s been out of business for many years now,” said Pirner. “There’s nothing in there. They’ve cleaned the whole site up, and I have been in contact with the landowner. What I’m looking to do is put a woodyard there.”

“It’s flat,” he continued. “It’s sandy. It would be a good place for me to set up, but I spoke to the building inspector and haven’t gotten a definitive answer. It’s zoned Residential/Agricultural. I don’t think this is something to go to the Zoning Board for, for a variance, because generally a variance has to do with a hardship. There’s not a hardship here; I’m looking for a clarification.”

Pirner noted that there are two buildings on the property, adding it’s his intention to set up a woodyard on the site where he can store firewood and wood chips for facilities that use biomass, park his forestry equipment, and build a garage.

He also said the property will “need a 21E done it.” Chapter 21E of the General Laws of Massachusetts requires that land that may contain oil or hazardous materials be tested for such contaminants. If they are found to present, the property, depending on the extent of the contamination, may require the mitigation of the pollutants in the soil.

“I want to make sure it’s clean,” said Pirner, “because I don’t want to go further with this and not have a good exit strategy if something were to go wrong. I’m not going to assume any liability here.”

“I’ve always thought that logging falls under the heading of agriculture,” he continued. “It’s kind of a gray area. So, I’m not sure what the answer is. I don’t want to go ahead with anything without knowing it’s okay to locate there. I’m not sticking my neck out there.”

Pirner said 18 of the parcel’s 26 acres would be usable.

The main question for Pirner is whether the storage of logs, firewood, and woodchips for biomass would be considered an agricultural use. He said he spoke with Building Inspector Bob Legare about the allowability of such a venture but had yet to hear back.

Board Chair Bernie Malouin said the town’s zoning bylaws use the definition of agriculture set down in Mass. General Law, Chapter 120A, Section 1A. After reading the law, board members seemed to question whether all of the wood stored on site would have to come from that property, as Legare reportedly indicated to Pirner.

“I find that hard to believe,” said Pirner, “because none of the farmers I know farm just their own land. They farm other people’s land. They hay it, or grow crops on it.”

Malouin said the board would check with Town Counsel to get a clarification on the definition and agricultural use. Pirner was invited back to speak with the board at its first meeting in December.

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