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Sterling company has plans to rehab old Davis Library

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DEVENS — A Sterling-based company presented plans to redevelop the old Davis Library on Jackson Road at a public hearing held by the Devens Enterprise Commission (DEC) Tuesday night.

DEC is the one-stop permitting authority for Devens, acting in lieu of land use boards.

A photo of the single-story brick building, coupled with an architectural drawing, showed changes the company, Laddawn, Inc., plans to make, including wider windows and other façade upgrades.

The plan was presented by one of Laddawn’s owners, Ladd Lavallee, and an engineer and architect working on the makeover project.

According to DEC staff, the proposed use conforms to zoning and the plan was reviewed. It meets most requirements, and a punch list items can be addressed via conditions attached to the permit, if granted.

Lavallee said his family firm has been in business for 36 years and for 20 years in Sterling, with distribution facilities elsewhere in New England and branches in Dallas and Iowa. The firm makes plastic packaging film, but no manufacturing will be done at the new location, he said. The Devens building will house only office space.

Lavallee said it’s a “green industry” using “100 percent renewable energy” to manufacture products in the United States that could be made more cheaply in Mexico or China. “We’ve learned to succeed as an American manufacturer,” he said, citing an “innovative strategy” that is customer-oriented and internet-focused. “Seventy percent of our transactions are online,” he said.

The company plans to grow, he said, and is currently scouting for space in Reno, Nev. The Devens site has room for future expansion built into the plan, but Lavallee downplayed the idea. Responding to a neighbor’s question, he said the company would move out if it outgrew the space rather than add to the building, but not any time soon.

The new parking lot will have 39 spaces based on square footage and designated building use, plus two handicap spaces and a reserved area for 12 more spaces, if needed.

Commissioner James DeZutter questioned whether there would be enough parking.

“How many people will work in the building?” he asked.

Lavallee said numbers would vary, with some workers shuttling from Sterling for meetings. About 25 to 30 people will be there on a regular basis, he said.

When Commissioner John Oelfke tried to pin down the number of offices in the building, he was told the floor plan would be more open space than wall space. Lavallee said he envisions an open, welcoming environment where workers feel at home.

Jonathan Cocker, of Maugel Architects, Inc., sketched the building re-do. Stone insets will be removed for new, wider windows. A band of stone at the top of the building will go, and unsightly loading dock in back will be remodeled as an entry off the cafeteria.

William Hannigan, of Hannigan Engineering, explained the exterior renovation plan, with maps, including the drainage plan approved by MassDevelopment engineers.

Most mature vegetation will be preserved, but scruffy plants in front of the building will be removed, along with one large tree and pavement and curbs in the existing parking lot. There will be less “impervious” area in the new footprint and more grassy area, he said. A 3-foot berm with trees on top will provide screening for neighboring residences.

Public input focused on sound from HVAC units on the roof, glare from lights in the parking lot and traffic.

Lavallee said it’s a low-key business. “As uses go, this is pretty benign,” he said. But he promised to accommodate reasonable requests from neighbors.

Wally Lang, of Walnut Street, said the building’s roof is visible from two-story houses behind it. He asked if there were plans to screen HVAC units in back, noting the architect’s drawing showed screening only in front. Lavallee said if it turns out that the new, smaller units are visible to residents, he’ll have the back screened, too.

Mike Boucher, of Walnut Street, said a 3-foot berm may not be enough of a buffer. It’s just 42 steps from his street corner to the old library. “That’s pretty close,” he said.

Exterior lighting will cycle on at 7 a.m. and off at 10 p.m. weekdays. Shielded, down-facing lights on the building stay on for security.

Another resident, who lives in a Walnut Street condo, said she’s concerned about adding another business with HVAC to a noisy mix that already includes a hotel and a restaurant. And it will increase traffic at the Jackson Road intersection, which she said is a safety issue.

According to DEC staff, no sound study was necessary, since it’s not a manufacturing plant and the HVAC units won’t cool equipment — just people. The applicant has agreed to provide specs showing sound decibels the HVAC units produce, and if someone complains about noise, they’ll measure it.

Jay Wallace, of Harvard, said that’s not precise enough. As co-owner of Dunroven Farm on Old Mill Road, he has had more than his share of noise since Evergreen Solar moved in on Barnum Road, Devens. Over a year of hearings and mitigation plans that haven’t worked, he and co-owner Laura McGovern have become DEC regulars.

Wallace said now is the time to address noise the A/C roof units might introduce by setting proper measurement protocols before the units are installed and operating.

Commissioner Paul Routhier didn’t see the connection. “I can guarantee you the noise won’t get to Harvard,” he said.

“It is in Harvard!” Harvard Selectman Peter Warren countered, from the audience.

Oelfke agreed it’s better to address the noise issue before it becomes a problem. “Unlike in other situations, we can do an on-off test with these units,” he said. “We should have done that” with Evergreen.

According to MassDevelopment’s vice president of marketing and sales, a number of buyers were interested in the old library building, and this one is a good fit. “We tried to be thoughtful,” he said. “I really think you will find Laddawn to be a great neighbor.”

Although closed to public input, the hearing was left open as commissioners moved on to other business. DEC will reconvene, deliberate and decide on the permit application Sept. 9, at 7:30 a.m.