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7 Takeaways from the Feb. 13 Planning Board Meeting

Town to get ‘Cadillac of sycamores,’ plus DPW & School Maintenance Facility plan presented

The Planning Board met last night with all members in attendance. 

In committee reports, member Jim Duffy reported that NMCOG held a meeting to discuss a strategic plan for the agency, while Jonathan Ciampa updated the board on the Elementary School Building Committee.

“Everyone seems to be settling in nicely,” said Ciampa of the new school, adding there are about five punch list items remaining.

“The only item of any substance … is an issue with the gym floor where the excessively dry air has apparently caused some separation of the boards,” he said. “It’s being addressed, and it’s anticipated that it will get resolved. And I would assume at no cost to the town — at least that’s my position.” 

Member Vinny Fratalia thanked Ciampa and other board members for their work on the ESBC.

“It’s a great, great asset to the community,” said Fratalia of the new school. He was among elected leaders in attendance at the recent ribbon cutting.

In her report, Community/Economic Development Planner Alexandra Lowder reported on new projects in town, several of them meant to alleviate the lack of senior and low-income housing.

The new owners of 2560 Main St., the former Woodhaven facility, are working on demolition plans and are targeting early March for coming before the board. The facility will offer people aged 55+ independent living quarters, suitable for single- or double-person occupancy, with common dining facilities and other limited services. 

The former Residence Inn at 1775 Andover St. is slated for an adaptive reuse of the extended stay hotel into 40B housing through the Local Initiative Project (LIP) — or “friendly 40B” — process. The owners are still waiting for their Project Eligibility Letter from the Massachusetts Housing Partnership but expect to have it soon, according to Lowder. 

The proposed hotel at the corner of North Street and International Place, across from the Raytheon campus, is also seeing movement. The 937 North St. property was permitted in 2017 as a 132-room Hilton Garden Inn in 2017, but legal challenges delayed the build. Prospective buyers hope to get the project up and running again.

Fans of Latin soul food will be pleased to hear that 2254 Main St., the former Bluebird Café, will soon be a brick-and-mortar location for the popular The Pull-Up food truck. The owner recently posted on his Facebook page photos of the remodel. It shouldn’t be long before we can get some empanadas and tostones without leaving town. The owner hopes to have building and health permits soon.

Lowder also provided a preview of the agenda for the Feb. 27 meeting. 

EcoAuto will request a sign special permit, as the electric vehicle showroom quickly approaches opening day. 

And two sites — 2122 Main St., next to Donna’s Donuts, and 1693 Shawsheen St., currently home to MDR Construction — are seeking to open retail marijuana establishments and will come before the board.

Lowder also presented a summary of two zoning bylaw changes.

One affects redevelopment of empty buildings, a hot economic development topic. Currently, a minor site plan review may be accomplished by staff, while a major site plan review involves buildings of 1,000 sf or more. These must come before the Planning Board and/or Zoning Board of Appeals. 

Lowder suggests that if there are no structural changes, exterior alterations or new construction, or changes that would result in increased trips, noise or similar disruptions, that applications for larger properties may be considered for minor site plan reviews. 

Under that proposal, redevelopment of the site would not itself trigger a full compliance review.

Lowder explained that any change to the “bones of the building” will require a review, but that from an economic development perspective, this change should make it easier for new businesses to open without being adversely impacted by the noncompliance of a previous owner. 

“This provides a reasonable path forward for redevelopment of vacant sites while also ensuring a close review of any proposed changes,” she said, pointing out that the town does not want to dissuade businesses from revitalizing existing sites.

Lowder also followed up on her previous suggestion that the town allow some conversions of commercial space to residential units to be affordable in perpetuity.

The Planning Board voted unanimously to recommend approval of both articles.

After approvals of two as-built plans, the board unanimously signed off on a 1,000 sf family suite at 3 Amos St. 

Family suites are increasingly popular and help homeowners care for aging relatives while taking some pressure off the town’s scarce senior and low-income housing stock. Those living in an accessory apartment must be an immediate relative of the homeowner — sibling, grandparent, in-laws or children — and the owner must certify this annually via a notarized affidavit to the Town Clerk. 

“We encourage these, we’re supportive, as long as you stay in compliance,” said Chair Stephen Johnson.

Todd and Rebecca Arsenault, owners of La Vita Dolce at 1866 Main St., appeared requesting a special sign permit to add a large smiley face logo to the facade of the bakery. 

Residents may have seen the smiley face on the sign previously and then noted its removal. The inclusion of the face plus the existing text had put the sign out of compliance with the bylaw by two feet.

“I’m generally kind of anti-waiver,” said Ciampa, asking Arsenault about the significance of the smiley face. Arsenault explained that the logo “will be everywhere” and that he hopes it reminds people to smile.

The board voted unanimously to approve the sign special permit with the caveat that the back-lighting must not cause a nuisance. 

Next up, Tewksbury’s new DPW director, Kevin Hardiman, came before the board with Tony Wespiser and Tyler Cofelice of Weston and Sampson for a site plan review for the new DPW & School Maintenance Facility that was approved by Town Meeting in October.

Residents can find a rundown of plans here.

Wespiser stated that Weston and Sampson has reviewed flooding, wetlands, stump disposal and hazardous materials considerations for the site. Due to the elimination of Municipal zoning, the town will need some waivers from the ZBA. He presented a rendering of the new building (see above) as well as sample photos of various internal areas.

Cofelice gave a preview of the site and layout and materials, including a plan to limit the number of curb cuts on Pine St. The project is designed to meet all state and local stormwater regulations. A new grass berm will aid in noise reduction.

In response to questioning by Vice Chair Bob Fowler, Wespiser explained that a larger-than-expected land disturbance permit request resulted from adjustments to the project made to reduce the overall cost. 

Fratalia confirmed that the project will include roof work to stop leaks and questioned why not put in an entirely new roof. Hardiman explained that many portions of the roof are in good condition. 

Duffy clarified that if the town does move forward with bid alternates (components that would be over and above the core plan) that there will be no further need for additional permitting.

Overall, the board was supportive of the design.

“The DPW building is right there next to residents,” said Johnson. “Whatever we can do to make it best for them, and still operational for you guys, I think makes the most sense.”

Meera Cousens of Civil Design Consultants, consultant Dick Cuoco and owner Joseph Phelan appeared seeking variances to construct a two-story, 9,600 sf garage and contractor’s yard behind the existing 16,000 sf building at 118 Lumber Lane. Cousins said that the firm is working through a list of items of concern from the DPW and Planning Board.

“Any potential tenants?” asked Fratalia. Cuoco responded that there are no renters on board. The hearing was continued to March 13.

Finally, attorney David Plunkett appeared representing developer John Sullivan to face an administrative action in response to the unauthorized removal of a mature sycamore tree in the town center.

“The contractor indicated that the tree wasn’t the healthiest,” said Plunkett, before stating the obvious. “Probably at that time, the best thing to do was come to the board and say hey, we have feedback that the tree isn’t the healthiest tree and we want to take it down.”

That didn’t happen, so to remedy the situation, Plunkett said a 24- to 26-foot tall and 12- to 15-foot diameter sycamore tree will be acquired from a tree farm in New Hampshire and transplanted to the same location as the tree that was improperly removed, with that work done by a company that specializes in — and guarantees — replanting of mature trees.

“It’s going to be an expensive proposition,” he said, citing a cost of approximately $14,000 for a sycamore hybrid that is more disease- and drought-resistant than the typical trees in the area. 

“Johnny’s going for the Cadillac of sycamores,” said Plunkett. 

The board approved the plan, but Ciampa did say he would have liked to see documentation on the condition of the tree that was cut down, while Lowder asked for confirmatory documentation on the tree size and the revised landscape plan. The planting will happen during the landscaping portion of the project.

“You’re making the best of a bad situation that you can’t undo,” said Johnson. “It’s basically impossible to replace the tree as it was.”

The board unanimously approved a motion to accept the submitted replacement sycamore tree in place of the one originally noted to be preserved. 

The next Planning Board meeting will be Feb. 27.

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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