Representatives of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution laid out plans for a new $27 million Quissett facility in front of members of the Cape Cod Commission on Monday, October 9.
The new facility is designed to be a “technology accelerator.”
“We have a large impact here and we hope to grow that,” said Colin Reed, senior adviser to Mark Abbott, the president and director of WHOI.
The new building will be a site for collaboration, invention, and sharing ideas, Mr. Reed told members of the commission. It will house WHOI’s rigging group, relocating the facilities from the Woods Hole village waterfront to the Quissett Campus. The new building will also house autonomous vehicle, sensor and technology (AVAST) innovation.
Five members of the Cape Cod Commission present at the hearing at the Falmouth Public Library were Elizabeth Taylor of Brewster, Tom Wilson of Chatham, Stephen Mealy of Bourne, Kevin Grunwald of Truro, and Charles McCaffrey of Falmouth.
The Cape Cod Commission’s regulatory review process is triggered whenever a proposed building totals more than 10,000 square feet. The commission evaluates a development’s regional impact based on factors laid out in its regional policy plan.
Plans call for a 50,000-square-foot building to be sited just outside a ring road that circles the Quissett campus. The entire campus totals just more than 124 acres. The property, purchased in 1968, contains laboratories, recreation space, administrative buildings, educational facilities, walking paths and parking lots.
The new building is part of a push to grow the organization in a sensitive way while acknowledging the impending effects of sea level rise. The building will be a costly but necessary addition to the campus, said Eliza Cox, an attorney representing WHOI.
Mr. Reed said, “It’s not a light decision from our trustees to fund such an opportunity.” Initial discussions of a new facility were held in light of an increasing need to relocate some facilities off WHOI’s dock site. WHOI is one of the only organizations of its size to have direct dock access, Mr. Reed said. WHOI wants to invest in the infrastructure, but doing so will require it to move some facilities and services away from the dock. The rigging group is one of those facilities, he added.
Thomas D. Kearns, president of Dewing Schmid Kearns, a design firm in Concord and South Dartmouth, explained the intent behind the design of the building. The structure is “contained within a dense forest buffer,” he said. Large bay doors on the first floor of the building are designed to allow movement of large pieces of equipment in and out.
The proposed building is sited more than 800 feet from Woods Hole Road and 1,200 feet from Oyster Pond. The building is located outside of 350-foot buffers for two wetlands in the west and northwest of the property.
The footprint of the building will be 20,000 square feet. The second and third floors total 14,750 square feet each and the “penthouse,” a structure designed to provide access to the rooftop, measures 500 square feet. A commission staff report suggests WHOI only has plans to use approximately 34,000 square feet of the building, leaving the top floor mostly vacant for now.
Wastewater will be treated on site at WHOI’s existing wastewater treatment facility. Any added discharge falls within the guidelines allowed by existing groundwater discharge permits for the site, the commission’s staff report reads.
More than 107,000 square feet of driveway and impervious roof area will be added to the Quissett Campus if the building is constructed according to plans. According to the staff report, the proposed stormwater plan will use “bioretention, subsurface infiltration, and the topography surrounding a pre-existing kettle hole depression to provide the required water quality treatment and storage volumes necessary to accommodate both the more frequent low intensity rainfall events and less frequent higher intensity storm.”
The Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program issued a letter in June certifying that the development will not be considered a “take” of rare species. However, WHOI submitted an Eastern Box Turtle Protection Plan to ensure that endangered species is not harmed during construction. A silt fence will also be used around the construction area to protect habitats beyond the limit of work.
The project will disturb 4.05 acres of land. WHOI has offered to obtain a permanent conservation restriction on 4.06 acres.
Neighbors who attended the hearing spoke out against the project. Their concerns included lighting, noise levels, disruption of natural habitats and increased traffic.
A trip generation report submitted suggests the new facility will generate less than 30 trips during peak hours. Moving the rigging group away from Woods Hole village will result in nine fewer employee trips to the village and fewer truck trips.
WHOI plans to implement a traffic mitigation plan, as well. The building will be added to a list of shuttle stops for the existing WHOI campus shuttle. The new building will offer interior bike storage and showers to encourage employees to bike to work.
Falmouth’s zoning bylaws require 120 parking spaces for the new structure. WHOI intends to construct only 85 of those spaces around the building. Five more spaces will be located elsewhere and 30 spaces will be held in “reserve,” meaning WHOI will identify an area to construct them onsite, but pave only if necessary. WHOI does not anticipate needing to construct the reserve spaces.
The proposed lighting on site will be dark-sky compliant to limit light pollution.
Approximately 45 percent of the rooftop of the new facility will be designed to handle solar arrays, so that WHOI may construct them in the future with additional funding. WHOI already maintains community solar farms in five different locations in Massachusetts.
Richard C. Lovering of Woods Hole Road told members of the commission that his concerns go beyond lighting and noise. “What’s the long-range plan?” he asked. “We kind of go through this every time there’s a project here. It seems like every director builds a building, so hopefully Mark Abbott will stay for a while.”
Charles McCaffrey, the Falmouth representative on the Cape Cod Commission, asked if WHOI could offer a long-range “master” plan for development.
“We have undergone, for the last 4½ years, a strategic facilities assessment,” Mr. Reed said. He added that he tried to stay away from the word “plan” because things change constantly. WHOI seeks donors for large-scale projects.
“Although WHOI has a strategic assessment, we don’t have a master plan that we can come to you with…unfortunately for nonprofits, it’s hard to predict what’s coming and when,” Ms. Cox added.
Mr. Reed also noted that members of WHOI are in the process of assessing what could be done at the docks due to concerns over sea-level rise and flooding. “Do we build it for 50 years, 75 years, or 100 years? And if we build a 100-year dock, but it’s only a 50-year town, what happens there? So we’re starting down this path to really looking at resiliency, looking at what are the impacts going to be,” Mr. Reed said.
Susan L. Moran, a member of the Falmouth Board of Selectmen, emphasized WHOI’s importance in the community. “WHOI goes out of its way to have an open-door policy and to share the science that it’s developing in our backyard,” she said. Ms. Moran suggested considering WHOI’s role in terms of the next generation when contemplating the regional impact of its growth.
The Cape Cod Commission staff recommended approval of the project, subject to conditions. The recommended conditions include elements of the plan that WHOI had already submitted. Confirming approval of the Eastern Box Turtle Protection Plan, and minimizing impacts to nearby habitats by re-vegetating areas with native species were mentioned.
The commission’s panel hearing the request asked for more information regarding the economic impact of the new facility. The hearing was continued until the Cape Cod Commission’s next full hearing in November. In the meantime, commission staff agreed to start drafting a decision, and the applicant agreed to meet for public workshops.