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Planning Board To Address Unauthorized Removal of Significant Sycamore Tree In Town Center

StellaDoggo receives permit for overnight kennel business; La Vita Dolce construction on track per town planner

The Planning Board met last night without vice-chair Bob Fowler. 

Paul Ross appeared with owner Joseph Phelan to request a three-year extension for a permit for the multi-tenant business park at 120 Lumber Lane, off of East St. near the Market Basket warehouse. In July 2022, the board approved a nine-month extension after it came to light that some of the work done by businesses renting bays were not allowed under the zoning. 

Ross said the owner is working to bring units into compliance with permitted uses, has achieved 100% sprinkler coverage and is working with the town’s Building Department. Chair Stephen Johnson pushed back on the three-year request, suggesting that the proponents come back in about a year, if necessary. They also need to report back on compliance in February, so a one-year check-in will align the appearances and be more consistent with current practice.

“We don’t want permits sitting out there forever without movement,” said Johnson. The one-year extension was approved unanimously.

Next up, Rhonda Corey, owner of StellaDoggo Playcare, appeared seeking a special permit for a kennel license to allow overnight boarding of as many as 15 dogs at 1721 Main St. The board received multiple letters of support from customers.

Member Vinny Fratalia asked about neighboring units, which include a salon and fitness studio. The facility will not be staffed overnight, but there will be cameras and motion detectors that would pick up if a dog were barking or in distress, and staff will likely be on site until 10 to 11 p.m., returning at 6 a.m. Sleeping accommodations are not allowed, per town planner Alex Lowder. The board unanimously approved the special permit, with a notation that there cannot be excessive noise.

The board also unanimously approved a family suite at 8 Border Rd. with the caveat that the building inspector has final approval, before moving on to address several land disturbance permits.

Ben Osgood of Ranger Engineering Group appeared for Butler School LLC, which is proposing a 10,000 square foot daycare building at 770 Main St., across from Mexica. The facility, which will replace an existing single-family home, could accommodate 187 children.

Fratalia called out proponents who come in with designs that will require waivers rather than adapting plans to existing bylaws; the proposed 41 parking spaces are fewer than required. Member Jonathan Ciampa made the point that there is another daycare very close by, referring to Main Street Learning Acade­my, at 778 Main St. In fact, Desiree Wickham, cofounder of Main Street Learning Academy, asked about the proposed timeline for the project. The idea is to start construction within 30 – 60 days and open around Thanksgiving, said Osgood.

Member Jim Duffy drew on his experience as the husband of a daycare director to critique the design of the playground, specifically asking for a plan to retain the mulch and ensure safety around the catch basin. Johnson asked about progress on items called out by the town engineer, including widening the sidewalk and snow storage. 

The hearing was continued until the Jan. 23 meeting.

30 Year Old Case Could Derail Construction

Dennis Griecci, an engineer with Andover Consultants, appeared with applicant Kevin O’Brien of O’Brien Homes seeking a land disturbance permit. The plan is to clear approximately 63,000 square feet on a 2.3 acre undeveloped lot located at the end of Foster Lane to build a single-family home. 

The request was continued for two weeks to give the proponents time to address the Town Engineer’s findings — but the project may run into a legal roadblock.

Attorney David Plunkett appeared representing Joyce Terris of 44 Floyd Ave. and argued that O’Brien had no right to build on the lot, citing a 30-year-old case that his office brought in 1992. At that time, O’Brien had requested and received a permit to develop the lot for a subdivision, but the project was halted. 

“There is no right of Mr. O’Brien to use Foster Lane,” said Plunkett. “That was the decision of the appeals court. Nothing has changed since then.” 

Town Planner Alexandra Lowder advised that town counsel directed the board to go forward and consider the land disturbance permit request. That matter was continued to Feb. 23.

In her report, Lowder discussed her proposal to convert some commercial units in mixed use developments into affordable housing. The board asked her to follow up on developments where this would be feasible.

She proposed a bylaw change stating that “the planning board may grant by special permit the conversion of a previously permitted commercial unit in a mixed use development to an affordable residential unit to be maintained in perpetuity. The Board shall base its decision upon findings that the conversion will provide for improved practical use of the space and to lessen neighborhood impacts.”

She pointed out that parking and sewer capacity would be decision points. 

“Again, the idea would be for this to be examined on a case-by-case basis to see if it truly fits with the aesthetic of the neighborhood and of the building itself,” she said. “This isn’t just to be able to put residential units wherever folks want. This is going to be specifically limited to previously permitted mixed-use developments.” 

“If they came in for the project now, they’d be able to do it,” said Johnson, pointing out that under the new bylaw, commercial units are no longer required.

Eco Auto has offered to partner with the town to install more electric vehicle chargers. Lowder noted that Massachusetts building codes are moving toward requiring EV charging stations in new developments, and that the company, which hopes to open in the next few weeks, is able to help secure 80-100% reimbursement for the materials and equipment installation.

Beloved Tree Cut Down

If you’ve driven into the town center lately, you may have noticed a change, and not for the better. 

“It was brought to my attention that there was an issue with a landscape plan where a tree that was meant to remain part of the approved plan was removed,” said Lowder, referring to a large sycamore tree at 24 Pleasant St. that was cut down by the owner, developer John Sullivan.

That property, Sycamore Hall, is the colonial-style building that sits directly across from Town Hall, on the corner of Pleasant St. and Main St. 

In Sept. 2021, Sullivan received permission to transform the main structure to a mixed-use building, with three residential units and one commercial office unit. The plan calls for the carriage house at the rear of the home to be demolished and replaced with a new, eight-unit apartment building. The back of the 35,000 sf lot will be paved to accommodate 20-plus parking spaces.

In that approved plan, the mature tree on the Main St. side of the lot was retained.

Lowder says the town has sent a letter to the property owner to get a path forward for remedying the landscape plan.

“I’d like to see them put a sycamore tree back there — a large one,” said Fratalia.

Continuing her report, Lowder said La Vita Dolce construction is coming along nicely and that the owner will appear within a month or so for a sign special permit. 

Brelundi, the Italian test kitchen located at the former Mirabella’s, has had its kitchen plans approved by the health department and has a building permit in hand to start exterior improvements as well as interior renovations. The owners have an existing restaurant in Waltham and plan a scaled-down operation in Tewksbury with mostly prepared to-go and frozen meals, including pastas, olive oils and other specialties. 

She also called out an “honorary part of the Tewksbury business community,” Code 1 BBQ, which was a popular addition to the Tewksbury Community Market. The restaurant now has a permanent home in the plaza that houses Casablanca and Savers in Wilmington.

Tewksbury will soon also have an outpost for Art Gourmet Brazilian catering.

Finally, Lowder discussed a number of housekeeping and clarification changes that may be required in the new zoning bylaw, including for structures in industrial districts and signage requirements.

In closing, Duffy praised Eco Auto for being proactive on EV charging and new businesses for reusing existing buildings.

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.

One Comment

  1. Alfred Mancini Alfred Mancini January 10, 2023

    Really tired of contractors doing whatever they want.

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