Chamber News

March 09, 2021 Likes Comments

Is an Amazon warehouse in Needham's future?

Widett Circle isn’t likely on the minds of most of us out here in the western burbs.

But it should be.
Located about 25 miles from Needham Heights, Widett is an old industrial park, just south of downtown Boston off the Southeast Expressway. It was once considered a prime location for an Olympic stadium, and more recently as a vibrant mixed-use development and new gateway to Boston.
But now Widett’s owners are now in talks with Amazon about building a massive distribution center there, the Globe reports.
Why should that matter to us?
Because if we’re not careful we could find Amazon or some other hulking warehouse dominating one of our gateways here: The parcels along I-95 where Muzi Motors and Channel 5 are presently located.
Far fetched? It’s not.
Amazon has 34 facilities either operating or proposed in Massachusetts. Once they all are fully operational, the company's footprint in this state will total 12 million square feet of warehouse space, according to a recently released study from MAPC on the impact e-commerce warehouses are having on our region.
These facilities aren’t just going up in urban areas, or in out of view locations.
Amazon opened a 148K SF delivery station in Salem last month, bringing its warehouse portfolio inside the I-495 belt to nearly two dozen. Two new suburban facilities, totaling 200K SF, have been announced since then, reports Bisnow.
It's not just Amazon. recently secured a 370K SF lease in Peabody along the Route 128 corridor, surpassing Amazon's largest deals.
But -- you’re likely thinking -- this can’t happen here. We’re too overbuilt. Our land is too valuable for something like this.
Think again. In May Needham Town meeting will be voting to rezone the Muzi/Ch. 5 parcels, an area town leaders call “Highway Commercial 1.” The proposal isn’t stellar, but it removes distribution centers (among other things) from the allowed uses and replaces it with mix of office, lab space, medical and a touch of retail (plus, under special permit, up to 240 units of housing).
Two years ago, Needham’s Town Meeting rejected a proposal to rezone the same parcels. The proposal has been revised (watered down, is another way to describe it) with the hopes of quelling neighborhood opposition this time. Officials are confident it will pass this time. But it’s never certain.
And what happens if it’s rejected again?
Under current zoning, the parcels could be sold tomorrow and become a massive warehouse by right. And you know who might just find our gateway to Needham to be very attractive.
Beacon Hill agrees to address UI rates, PPP taxes
If you were worried about a near 60 percent hike in the unemployment insurance fees, or having to pay state taxes on your PPP loan, you can breathe a little easier today.
Yesterday, lawmakers reached an agreement on these two time-sensitive measures.
Both the 2021 and 2022 UI rates paid by employers will be frozen as part of a bill that would also authorize state borrowing "secured by a temporary employer assessment" to keep the UI trust fund solvent, reports Katie Lannan at State House News.
Under the same agreement, thousands of small businesses organized as pass-through entities will be excluded from paying state taxes on PPP loans. (Without this action, only businesses organized as corporations were exempt.)

The same legislation would grant workers paid leave -- with reimbursement for employers -- if they contract COVID-19, are ordered to quarantine, or need time off to get vaccinated. It would waive penalties for missed tax payments on unemployment insurance benefits received in 2020 and "provide targeted tax relief to unemployed workers whose income falls below 200 percent of the poverty line."
A final vote on the package of proposals could take place next week.
Judge dismisses interruption insurance suit
A federal judge in Boston threw out Legal Sea Foods’ lawsuit seeking to collect on its business interruption insurance policy yesterday, dealing a blow to similar efforts by Massachusetts businesses hurt by the pandemic, reports Greg Ryan at the BBJ.
Business owners and attorneys have closely watched Legal’s lawsuit. But U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton ruled that the virus does not affect the structural integrity of a property “and thus cannot constitute ‘direct physical loss of or damage to’ property.” Covid-19 harms people, not property, he added.
The University of Pennsylvania has been tracking similar cases nationwide. Few have prevailed.
PPP webinar today and Thursday
The SBA is offering webinars, today at 10 a.m. and Thursday at 5 p.m., related to recent PPP program updates which impact loan amount calculations. Schedule C filers (sole proprietorships, independent contractors, self-employed, and single-member LLCs) are encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity. Register.
You can also read the Interim Final Rule governing these changes and the recently-updated FAQ for Lenders and Borrowers. Finally, SBA has recently published a table, “Cross Program Eligibility on SBA Coronavirus Relief Options,” to help businesses determine eligibility for SBA relief programs and products.
But drum solos are no problem
The state has issued a clarification on its guidelines regarding live music in restaurants.
While live music is now permitted in restaurants, singing indoors is not. For outdoor performances involving singing or indoor and outdoor performances involving brass or wind instruments, special distancing must be followed including least 10 feet between performers and at least 25 feet between performers and first row of the audience.
Plexiglass barriers cannot be used to reduce required distance between performers or between performers and the audience.
Lining up for vaccinations

More than 30 million people in the United States and 715,136 people in Massachusetts are fully vaccinated. And now thanks to new CDC guidelines, the fully vaccinated can safely gather indoors with other vaccinated people without masks or social distancing.
We all know that it’s going to take some time before the r est of us get our turn.
And we still have the very real challenge of convincing vaccine skeptics from getting their shots.
Some employers plan to offer PTO or other incentives to workers for getting their shots. The Newton-based Bright Horizons is offering $100 gift cards to employees once they are fully vaccinated, reports the BBJ.
If your company is planning incentives or programs to encourage workers to become vaccinated, I’d be interested in hearing about your plans.
And if you need to blow off some "it's been one-year-and-I'm sick of this darn thing" steam, this place sounds perfect.
Maybe I'll join you.
President, Newton-Needham Regional Chamber
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