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12 Takeaways from the July 18 Planning Board Meeting

Planning Board chair Stephen Johnson opened the meeting by thanking former member Eric Ryder, who resigned last week citing ongoing scheduling conflicts.

“His expertise was certainly a bonus and a benefit to us and the town,” said Johnson. “We thank him for his time on the board.”

With no committee reports forthcoming, given Board member Robert Fowler’s absence from the last North St. and Trahan School Reuse Committee meeting, the board proceeded with the town planner’s report.

Building plans for the new Brelundi Italian takeout operation at the former Mirabella’s are under review with the fire and building departments, said community/economic development planner Alexandra Lowder. Once approved, the new owner will move forward with construction, aiming for a fall opening. Demolition of a house on the lot will add about 20 parking spaces.

Board member Vinny Fratalia requested that the site get some tidying up.

“I know there’s construction being done,” said Fratalia. “But it’s on our Main Street. And that goes as well for the Donna’s Donut site.”

Lowder also reported that cleanup of the lot at 1325 Main St., formerly Discount Madness, is proceeding. Tree House Brewing has its site plans for a refrigerated drive-up order pickup location under review by the fire and building departments, with plans to start retail beer sales in the fall. 

The business in the current building will soon vacate the site, with well-known stylist Nicholas Scott reportedly heading over to Salon Noir for the month of August.

The town received a Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness grant of $193,000 to survey residents on flooding in town and investigate possible solutions. Learn more on the town’s Hazard Mitigation & Climate Resilience Planning page.

Site work at 2131 Main St., across from Boudreau’s Automotive, should commence soon. The multifamily townhouse development has been in the works since at least 2019.

Board Vacancy

Lowder pointed out that, with Ryder’s departure, any special permit that requires a supermajority will now need all four members to vote in the affirmative. Should any of the four be absent, no special permits may be considered.

A joint meeting of the Planning Board and Select Board will be held to fill the open seat until the next town election. In 2023, someone will be elected to fill the remainder of Ryder’s term. 

The board voted to seek to fill the seat, a formality, while Fowler stated that he has reached out to former members seeking an experienced applicant without success.

“I really feel that it’s imperative that we get someone that has some experience,” said Fowler. “I’ll tell you why. Mr. Duffy, even though he’s doing a good job, has only been here for four months. If someone came in today for Mr. Ryder, it would be his first day. I’m leaving in seven months after 40 years. So that means you would have three new people in less than a year.”

Fowler stating that he will not run in 2023 means that there will be two open seats on the Planning Board.

Johnson stated that Ryder expressed interest in remaining on the Elementary School Building Committee, and given that the building process is winding down, he recommended that the Board approve that request. The Board voted unanimously to do so.

Retail Marijuana Discussion

Assistant town manager Steve Sadwick addressed the plan for retail marijuana. Tewksbury could have two or three retail locations, according to Sadwick, who added that the town has received five to six inquiries. His recommendation is a license-only model, in which the Select Board is the special-permit granting authority.

“Licensing would bring those operators back before the board of selectmen annually,” said Sadwick. The town can issue retail marijuana licenses equal to 20% of the number of liquor licenses available in town.

“The police chief has done his research and contacted colleagues in other communities that do have dispensaries,” said Sadwick. “He says that they find it to be one of the best regulated or performing retail operations because these licenses mean so much.” 

Fratalia clarified that the three allowable zones for a location would be General Business, South Village and Industrial.

“The only zone that we’ve really said no to is the town center,” said Sadwick, who pointed out that a location in South Tewksbury could draw in business from Wilmington and Reading.

Action to allow retail marijuana would still need to be taken at the October Special Town Meeting. 

Petitioners asked for a nine-month compliance extension for the multi-tenant business park at 120 Lumber Lane, off of East St. near the Market Basket warehouse. The board approved the extension unanimously. About a year ago, it came to light that some of the businesses renting bays were not allowed under the zoning.

Proponents are sticking to their plan for a fourth car wash at 1879 Main St., the former Funland site, directly across from Tewksbury Country Club (soon to be Tree House Brewing). One sticking point: Airport Rd. is a private way, so the company would have no ability to set up an “escape lane” for cars that wish to leave the site unless the businesses on that road agree, not a done deal.

Fowler called out the length of the light when pulling out of Airport Road — and the viability of the business model given traffic and competition from more established facilities.

“There’s two car washes within a half-mile of your site,” added Fratalia. “There’s a third one right up on Shawsheen. Is there a need for another car wash?”

Member Jim Duffy, while pleased at the reuse of an existing built-out site that’s been vacant for decades, raised concerns about outside LED lights, planned sidewalks and hours of operation.

Johnson pointed out a range of potential problems posed by the busy intersection. 

“If you’re using Airport Rd., it’s a light that almost never triggers,” said Johnson. “There could be serious traffic issues.”

That sentiment was echoed by the owner of the plaza housing Domino’s Pizza. The Board asked that the proponents contract with the town’s traffic consultant for a study before returning.

Serrato Signs LLC requested waivers on behalf of the new Main St. Starbucks, which is requesting more signage than is allowed by right. Fratalia notes that Starbucks locations in Wilmington and Billerica do not have the number of signs being requested for Tewksbury. The proposed plan included a 10-foot pylon sign across the front of the lot, with a request for an additional sign running perpendicular to Rt. 38, in addition to menu boards and drive-through makers.

“You don’t want the place to look like a circus,” said Duffy, who suggested scaling back. “There are signs everywhere. I know it’s good for the sign business, but do we really need so many?”

The board agreed to allow some of the requested signage, allowing the Starbucks to stay on track for a later summer or early fall opening.

Next up, the new owners of the former Nissan dealership at 623 Main St. promised to double the number of electric vehicle charging stations in town.

“Our goal is to bring back to life the dealership for the future, meaning a dealership that’s sustainable, a dealership that sells only hybrid and electric vehicles and also distributes charging stations for consumers to use in town,” said new owner Al Salas.

The Board was impressed with the Eco Auto proposal.

“I appreciate what you’ve done with this site,” said Fowler. “Welcome to town.”

Duffy, who is LEEDs certified, expressed interest in discussing the lack of charging bays in multifamily projects in town. Salas said that part of his plan is to distribute these stations, and that 54% of people who purchase electric cars also purchase charging bays. 

The remainder will use stations like those at his business. 

Eco Auto must follow rules set for the previous Nissan dealer, such as no test drives on side streets. The plan is to open Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Waivers were approved unanimously.

The applicants for 30 Commerce Way received a significantly cooler welcome, from residents at least.

At a previous hearing on the planned 87,000 s.f. “industrial flex” building, the Board raised questions around truck traffic. There are no tenants as of yet for the proposed new construction, which will have six loading docks and approximately 60 employees. The overall property is about 12 acres, zoned industrial. The applicants brought back new plans that addressed many of the Board’s issues, but abutters remain concerned about truck traffic given the child care center and batting cages in the area, and the narrowness of the road.

Resident Tony Cerqueira of 232 Old Main St. took issue with the site photos displayed by the proponents, saying they represent an unrealistic view of traffic in the area.

“Those pictures had no cars on the street,” said Cerqueira. “They were taken on a Sunday.”

Other residents also took issue with the traffic, as well as drainage and elevations. Still, the proponents have met many of the Board’s requests. The hearing was continued to August, when the town engineer will have weighed in.

Finally, Jim Hanley of Civil Design Consultants addressed another long-running industrial project at 1023 and 1029 East St. A request to eliminate some impervious surface for snow storage was approved unanimously.

The Board meets again on August 22.

Lorna is a 25-year resident of Tewksbury who has written for organizations ranging from the DIA to InformationWeek to a free weekly in New London that sent her to interview the pastry chef at Foxwoods.

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