Woodcraft eyes former EMS plant in Brandon

BRANDON — It remains to be seen whether New England Woodcraft will buy or lease the former Neo EMS building on Prospect Street in Brandon, but plans to expand the company’s operations at that location are moving forward.
Jeff Thurston of New England Woodcraft appeared before the Brandon Development Review Board last week to outline the Forest Dale-based company’s plans to expand to the former Nexus electronics plant. The longtime wood furniture manufacturer plans to use the 8,000-square-foot main plant to assemble, finish and ship furniture to customers. The millwork will continue to be done at the Forest Dale plant.
Thurston said 16 people would work at the Prospect Street plant, and he hopes to increase the staff to 20 at that location once volume increases.
An Act 250 state land use permit is not required for New England Woodcraft to make the move.
The application would be the first to take advantage of a recent change to Brandon’s zoning ordinance. The property was last used for a nonconforming use in the Neighborhood Residential District and the nonconforming use was discontinued in November 2008 after Neo EMS Electronics closed its doors in August 2008, laying off 50 employees.
In February, the Brandon selectboard approved a change to Section 501(d)(ii) of the Brandon Land Use Ordinance, stating that a nonconforming use that has been discontinued and has not been replaced by a conforming use may be resumed within four years of the date of the discontinuance, with conditional use approval by the DRB based upon the review and conformity with Section 600 Performance Objectives and Standards of the Brandon Land Use Ordinance. The board made the change on the recommendation of the Brandon Planning Commission in order to encourage economic development by making it easier for prospective tenants to occupy empty commercial and industrial buildings in town that had previous nonconforming uses, like the Nexus building.
There were questions about VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, in the lacquers used to coat the furniture. VOCs are organic chemical compounds that have high enough vapor pressures under normal conditions to vaporize and enter the earth’s atmosphere. They can be harmful to humans if toxic and released in high amounts.
One surprising revelation is the amount of hazardous chemicals that are still inside the Nexus building. Thurston said the lacquers the company will use to finish furniture at the plant are not nearly as dangerous as what is currently in the building.
“There’s a lot more dangerous chemicals in there now than what I’m bringing in,” Thurston said. “And (the building owners) just left them there.”
Thurston said New England Woodcraft has a permit for up to 500 tons of VOCs.
“I know it sounds like a lot, but it’s really a miniscule amount,” he said.
Walnut Street resident Bob Gearwar asked about tractor-trailer traffic, saying that in 1966 when the plant first opened, the town said the trucks were not allowed. Zoning administrator Tina Wiles said there was a condition with Nexus that trucks had to use West Seminary Street and Walnut Street to get to and from the plant, and that trucks were prohibited from using Prospect Street.
Thurston said the trucks would only be going to and from the plant two days a week.
He also said he is concerned about tractor-trailer trucks making the corners on West Seminary and Walnut properly, but that it should work.
“I was told that if a driver can’t make that route, he shouldn’t be driving,” he said. “If they go slow and pay attention, it shouldn’t be a problem.”


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