Planning board unanimously approves IDEXX exapansion

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WESTBROOK – Despite another round of vocal complaints about traffic congestion from residents who live in the area, the planning board unanimously approved an expansion project at IDEXX last week.

John Harper, senior associate with Lavallee Brensigner Architects, said the 118,000 square foot expansion, dubbed Synergy East, will be added onto the Synergy building and provide office and conference room space for an additional 600 employees. A May 11 groundbreaking is scheduled.

“Those employees won’t all start day one, rather it is to help sustain the growth IDEXX is experiencing,” said Denise Cameron, an engineer with Woodard and Curran who is helping IDEXX through the permitting process.

The project, Cameron said, calls for the construction of four new parking lots to the rear of the property on land the company is leasing from Central Maine Power. The lots would be accessed by a new road off of Saco Street. Cameron said there will be landscaping along the road to buffer it from the abutting properties.

Planning Board Vice Chairman Rene Daniel said he was impressed with the landscaping included in the plan.

“There is a lot of things you don’t typically see in the city. I think it looks very, very nice,” he said.

The building and first phase of the project (parking lots one and two) will be completed by 2020, with the second phase (lots three and four) completed by 2026. Planning Board member Robin Tannenbaum asked whether IDEXX had considered a parking garage instead of constructing the four parking lots.

Dana Fortier, director of engineering and facilities for IDEXX, said a garage was considered, but cost and maintenance of it were concerns. He said a garage doesn’t fit into the company’s long-term plans.

“I am not saying we will never consider it, but it was not the right fit for us at this time,” he said.

Tom Errico, a traffic engineer with TY Ling International Group in Falmouth, said the expansion, once completed,  is expected to generate an additional 274 vehicle trips in the morning peak commute and 255 in the afternoon peak commute.  As a result, Errico was asked to conduct a traffic study to see what traffic improvements may be needed as a result of the increased traffic. The city, he said, is looking into installing a traffic signal at the intersection of Eisenhower Drive and Spring Street, which is currently stop-sign controlled. A traffic light could be needed at the intersection of Eisenhower Drive and Saco Street.

“From what I am hearing from (the Maine Department of Transportation) is that they think a signal is needed there,” Errico said.

The study, Errico said, takes into account today’s traffic as well as what it might look like in the future by considering under-construction or permitted development projects.

Traffic improvements may also be necessary where County Road and Spring Street meet in Westbrook and where Skyway Drive and Congress Street converge in Portland.

Residents who live around IDEXX argue that while they don’t have an issue with the plan specifically, they do take issue with the traffic the expansion would generate in an already congestion section of Westbrook, even after the traffic improvements are put into place.

Ron Stoloff, a resident of Longfellow Street, objects to the plan because it increases traffic in his neighborhood and is part of “the over-development of the city.”

“I feel it would decrease the quality of life in Westbrook with an increase of traffic and more accidents and more speeding,” he said.

How the IDEXX development impacts her way of life is also a worry for Martha Goodale, whose Saco Street home is less than a mile from IDEXX. Her concern is how the pollution generated from the additional traffic is going to impact the gardens she operates in her yard.

Fran Jensen, of Vivian Street, said traffic is much different in the neighborhood due to the residential and commercial development that has come since she moved into her house in 1970. Furthermore, the traffic issue has been compounded by the reconstruction/expansion of the public services/bus depot facility on Saco Street. It is not uncommon, Jensen said, for motorists to cut through her street as a shortcut to get to William Clarke Drive or Spring Street.

“I think industry is great for Westbrook and propels the city, but sometimes I wonder at what cost,” she said.

Carin Dowling-Ingraham, who lives next to where the access road is proposed on Saco Street, wondered if reducing the speed limit along Saco Street might make the area a little safer for her family.

Errico said a request to lower the speed limit is “worthwhile,” but would recommend not doing so until some of the traffic improvements and calming measures have been put into place.

Bill Fletcher, an attorney with Fletcher, Selser and Devine, speaking on behalf of Calpine Corporation said his client is “generally supportive” of the project, but would like to see the access drive moved further away from Calpine’s security gate.

IDEXX officially has the approval of the planning board, but still has to get state permitting to come up with some sort of solution with Calpine as to where the access road will go.

Fortier said IDEXX is happy to work with Calpine “to find a solution that is workable for both parties.”

Michael Kelley can be reached at 781-3661 x 125 or mkelley@keepmecurrent.com

IDEXX has recieved the go-ahead on a building expansion that would, over time,  add 600 employees to its facility in the 5-Star Industrial Park. (Staff photo by Michael Kelley)

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