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Tewksbury To Lose Its Post Office? Fratalia Says It’s Possible, and Other Planning Board Takeaways

The Planning Board met last night, joined by new member Jonathan Ciampa. Ciampa was recently appointed to fill an open seat created by the resignation of Eric Ryder. 

In member committee reports, vice-chair Bob Fowler, who is the Planning Board representative on the North & Trahan School Reuse Committee, expressed frustration with the progress that group is making.

“I want to bring some information to them because they seem not to be up to speed on the use of the school for senior housing,” said Fowler. “I was almost beating my head against the wall at the last meeting.”

Editor’s note: Fowler was not in attendance at the last Reuse Committee meeting. 

He suggested that the committee was unclear on the feasibility of building affordable senior housing at the North St. site. The Trahan is the only location where multifamily development would be allowed under the town’s zoning bylaw, though chair Stephen Johnson made the point that should the town retain ownership, municipal zoning offers flexibility at both sites. 

In addition to approving the community survey that is due to launch on Sept. 12, at the last meeting, Reuse Committee member Mark Kratman stated that he has invited the East Boston Community Development Corp. to address the group on the feasibility of redeveloping the Trahan building for affordable units.

Update: Kratman said his charge from the Reuse Committee was to ask the EBCDC to look at both properties, not just the Trahan.

“Each has their own challenges,” he said. “We should keep an open mind to any reuse.”

Sal’s Site Title Cleared

Attorney Stephen Rodman from Lampert, Hausler and Rodman shed light on why the former Sal’s Pizza location, at 2500 Main St., has been vacant for several years. Rothman said that a title issue concerning access to Rt. 38 has driven away a number of purchasers.

“There have been many different buyers over the years and they’ve all backed out,” said Rodman, due to the lack of an easement through the lot in front of the 2504 Main St. office condominium.

“So over the past year, we’ve been in front of the land court,” he said. “An access easement is in place based on the land court judgment.”

Member Vinny Fratalia motioned to approve the plan, and that passed unanimously.

Business Updates

Community/economic development planner Alexandra Lowder updated the Board on a number of projects.

Pera Grill is now open at 1060 Main St., and Starbucks is on track to open in September at 1800 Main St. Tree House Brewing is moving forward with state, federal and local licensing for the brewery to open at the Tewksbury Country Club. Tree House expects to begin selling beer via online orders from the accessory building this fall.

New bakery La Vida Dolce, in the former Santander Bank location, is also moving forward, with a concrete floor having been poured. 

“The rest of the unit is a shell, ready for build out,” said Lowder. “The external grease trap does still need to be installed, which will be a major undertaking and probably rather disruptive to the parking lot. So keep an eye out for that in the next few weeks.”

Brelundi, which has a Waltham site, has submitted building and kitchen plans for the former Mirabella’s location.

“Early looks at their proposed menu suggest a wide variety of Italian food,” said Lowder. “It looks really nice.”

Finally, Eco Auto, which is moving into the old Nissan dealership, has its building permit and Class II auto license in hand. 

Lowder also addressed the board on the Housing Production Plan that was previously presented to the Select Board.

“The Tewksbury median home sales price in the last decade has just skyrocketed,” said Lowder.

As discussed at the Select Board meeting, the town expects to fall below the 10% affordable baseline set by the state once the 2020 census is certified. That gave rise to the pending 40B proposal at Ames Pond. Going forward, the town’s goal is at least .05% subsidized housing production annually via a mix of infill development, cluster developments, adaptive reuse, transit-oriented housing, mixed-use developments and inclusionary zoning. 

“I think sometimes when we think of affordable housing, we think very, very low or no income,” said Lowder. “But we’re talking people who have a household income of $80,000 and can’t find housing. This is why we need to work towards better planning for affordable housing in the community, and it’s why we have provisions in our bylaw that help us get there.”

She pointed out that assistant town manager Steve Sadwick is doing an excellent job counting all affordable units and that there will be public outreach efforts and a pop-up at the Community Market to gather input on the housing goals and strategies important to residents.

As part of the discussion, Fratalia told the Planning Board that the Soldier On project is “in limbo” while the proponents go back to the state for additional funding, and he took issue with the Select Board’s decision to up the initial $350,000 contribution from the town to $500,000 versus the $950,000 that the organization had requested. 

“I have a hard time with the decision made to not increase their financing,” said Fratalia, who is also on the board of Tewksbury Home Build. “We have $5 million in our affordable housing trust fund, sitting there.”

The plan for the Soldier On development is for 21 units, limited to veterans. At the $500,000 contribution, that works out to a cost of $23,809 per unit for the town. Had the Select Board approved the full amount requested, the cost would have been $45,714. 

The Select Board discussion and a breakdown of the Soldier On project’s financials is here.

Trull Brook Given Green Light

Next, the Board heard from Meera Cousens of Civil Design Consultants, attorney David Plunkett and Roy Trull, owner of the 127 acre Trull Brook Golf Course, on plans to add expand its restaurant space, add 334 parking spaces and a large new clubhouse and replace indoor tennis courts with golf simulators.

Cousens stated that Trull has agreed to install a new stormwater management system. Town engineer Kevin Hardiman had additional comments on the plan, but the Board wasn’t inclined to further delay approval to hear from him.

“That is a jewel on River Road, and the service that they’ve given to the town has been going on for years,” said Fowler. “This plan should be approved. It should be approved. Meera, I appreciate all the work that you’ve done. It’s frustrating sometimes.”

The rest of the board agreed and, after some questions on lighting, signage and landscaping, gave the project a green light, conditional on meeting Hardiman’s requirements.

“The board reserves the right to require additional speed reduction measures, including but not limited to speed bumps,” added Johnson.

See You In September?

Proponents for projects at 1879 Main St., a car wash proposed for the former Funland, and at 30 Commerce Way requested continuances. The Commerce Way site is a planned 87,000 s.f. “industrial flex” building on about 12 acres, zoned industrial, that has drawn opposition from abutters.

The Board heard details on a new full-color electronic message sign, similar to the one at the high school, for the soon-to-open Center Elementary School. After some discussion on quality, lighting and size, a waiver to allow the sign was approved unanimously.

Fratalia asked for updates on the plan to make 1325 Main St., the old Discount Madness, more presentable. The contractor has withdrawn from the site and the owners are “regrouping;” they previously agreed to keep the board informed on how they intend to move forward. That communication has not been forthcoming, according to Lowder. 

Post Office Buzz

Finally, Fratalia stated that he “heard through the grapevine” that the postal service is considering downsizing and moving the letter carriers and trucks to Woburn sometime early next year. 

“Hopefully they won’t,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure that they do leave a post office in town.” 

Locations across the country have been closing to save money. In a May keynote address, postmaster general Louis DeJoy stated that the Postal Service would aggregate many of its operations.

“Our current processing plant and transportation network is, well, not good. We process mail and packages in a complicated, illogical, redundant and inefficient way,” stated DeJoy at the National Postal Forum in Phoenix, on May 16. “We will close the multitude of annexes around the nation that add cost, transportation and foster inefficient and ad-hoc operations.”

In response to a query on land ownership, assistant town manager Steve Sadwick said that parcel is listed as being owned by the United States Postal Service, and that under Federal procurement laws, governments often must sell to the highest bidder.

“The Reading Post Office was sold to a developer that built a few hundred housing units at the site, while preserving the building,” said Sadwick, noting that the Town has not received any official notice from the USPS that it would be relocating.

The next Planning Board meeting is scheduled for Sept. 12 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall or on Comcast (99) or Verizon (33). Residents may also watch this and other meetings on the town’s YouTube channel, Tewksbury TV.

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Lorna is a U.S. Army veteran and 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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