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Natick’s planning board reviews the proposal for the biotechnology lab

NATICK, MA – Natick’s planning board on Wednesday night heard a revised plan for a biotech R&D facility to replace the Neiman Marcus store at the Natick Mall.

About 140 people attended the virtual meeting, according to President Andrew Meyer, including residents of Nouvelle at Natick, a luxury condominium complex across from the property. Meyer pointed out that this is not an approval hearing, but it is the first chance for the Planning Board to review the project and ask questions about the property, located at 30 Speen St.

“We will do a thorough review,” he said. “Let’s start with a clean slate”.

His focus for the meeting was the regulatory issues involved and who would oversee their enforcement.

The property is located in an area known as “the Golden Triangle,” the commercial district located at the intersection of Route 30 / Speen St. divided into industrial zones, which would make research and development a permissible use.

Attorney Pietro Barbieri conducted the presentation on behalf of the applicant. He explained that zoning would allow the building to be up to 50,000 square feet, but it was proposed for 34,000 square feet. The mechanical space on the third floor is unusable and does not count towards the height of the building.

Robert Schlager, CEO of Bullfinch Companies, spoke on behalf of NM Redevelopment Company, which owns the property. NM Redevelopment, a subsidiary of the Boston real estate firm Bulfinch Companies Inc.partnered with an investment management firm based in Chicago Harrison Street to purchase the 94,000-square-foot property for $ 12.6 million last December. Neiman Marcus’ lease expires in September.

The proposal calls for the western edge of the building to be moved 60 feet from the mall. There will be a 34-foot high mechanical shielding wall to hide mechanical equipment from view. At the entrance there is an atrium that will bring light into the building as well as a roof terrace. The project attempts to break up the facade of the building into several components.

Environmental health and safety professional Elizabeth Gilman Duane explained that biotech companies “work with very small amounts of chemicals and biological materials” compared to hospital laboratories and auto repair shops.

“The life sciences industry has always been heavily regulated at the local, state and federal levels,” he added. The lab the developer hopes to attract will work on the first or second tier of four biosecurity levels. He said the technicians will work with DNA sequencing and E. coli bacteria at these lower levels, with the work done in test tubes.

Gilman Duane stressed that “there is no identified tenant” at this time.

The president asked if any type of animal testing would be conducted at the facility. Gilman Duane said there was no plan to build an animal facility and that companies are moving away from animal testing.

Board member Douglas Landry called it “a fairly simple design” which is an allowable use for space.

“I am really excited that Natick is being considered for this type of use,” he added, calling it a “large mall reuse” that would generate tax revenue, mirroring a national trend.

Member Peter Nottonson questioned the height of the shield, expressing concern that it could be used for signage.

Sue Lee, a resident of Nouvelle a Natick, said she was concerned about the leak of hazardous materials affecting tenants. The president stressed that there will be a complete overhaul of chemical and fire safety.

Stacie Kosinski, a lawyer representing the board of directors of the Nouvelle at Natick Condominium Association, said she was there to learn and provide information to the owners of the complex. She defined her presence as “a starting point” for communication.

Meyer said he would be happy to facilitate communication between the parties involved.

Natick’s Kathy Dopp asked if there would be any kind of human experimentation.

“If I am presented with something that is not safe for Natick’s city, I will not vote in favor,” Meyer said.

The hearing continued until the next meeting on May 25 for further examination.

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