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At Planning Board, Andover Residents Protest Tewksbury’s Marijuana Zoning Decisions

Town Planner looking into long-unfinished work on Lee House, plus 7 more takeaways from last night’s meeting

The Planning Board met Monday with all members in attendance. 

In her Town Planner’s report, Alex Lowder shared that she received a letter from a resident in regard to the Lee House, shown above in its current unfinished state. The building is owned by developer — and Board of Health member — Robert Scarano. The plan when permits were issued in 2004 was to restore the historic property at 17 Lee St. as a condition of approval of permits for the mixed-use development at 1110 – 1120 Main St. and the Crystal’s General Store Plaza.

By 2007, the Planning Board was threatening to revoke those special permits, citing multiple violations by Scarano.

“We’re crawling up on 20 years,” with no completion, said Chair Stephen Johnson. “If it’s not being done on their own, we’re going to have to bring them in here and push that process along. I wasn’t here for 2004, but my guess is it wasn’t an accident that it got put in there as a condition, and it was expected to be completed.” 

Lowder said the town holds a $10,000 bond on the Lee House portion of the project.

“It displeases me, when I see that all the time,” said Vice-Chair Bob Fowler. “It is an eyesore.”

Lowder said she would reach out to Scarano to determine a plan of action and report back next month.

Lowder also reported that the former extended stay Residence Inn at 1775 Andover St. has received its 40B Project Eligibility Letter from the Mass. Housing Partnership and plans to bring an adaptive reuse package to the Zoning Board of Appeals in late spring or early summer. Sawyer Realty Development, which is also leading the Wood Haven 55+ project, plans on 130 units — 34 two bedrooms and the remainder one bedroom. 

One-third of the apartments will be affordable at 25% of AMI (annual median income). Market rents are expected to be $1,600 to $2,100, below average for the area, and there will be an option to have a furnished unit.

The committee unanimously approved a 995 square foot family suite at 171 Cardigan Rd.

Next up was a request for a signage waiver for Eco Auto at 623 Main St. The proposed sign would exceed the allowed area by 34 square feet. Eco Auto moved into the former Nissan dealership at 623 Main St. and will soon open a green and electric vehicle dealership. The building had been vacant for several years.

“We just got our permit on Friday,” said owner Al Salas, to applause from the audience.

“You made it right,” said Fowler of the previously vacant parcel. “It looks very nice.”

The waivers were approved unanimously.

Watch the full meeting here.

Next up were a pair of site plan reviews for proposed retail marijuana dispensaries at 2122 Main St. and 1693 Shawsheen St.

Attorney Valerio Romano of VGR Law Firm, design engineer Ian Ainslie of Meisner Brem and Davis Patel and security consultant Ed Davis (yes, that Ed Davis) of The Stories Company appeared for “Donuts Village,” next to Donna’s Donuts on Main St.

The plan is for a 5,400 square foot building, with half of that the dispensary and the remaining 2,700 square feet for retail or restaurant use. There is no housing component. There will be employee parking in the rear. The bylaw requires 28 spaces, but there is room for 45. There is a stormwater plan that meets all requirements. A traffic study and turning analysis by the Fire Department are pending.

In 2016, the Planning Board granted a permit for a mixed use development at the location that would have included housing units, but given bylaw changes, the permitting process needs to begin again. 

In response to a question by member Jim Duffy, the proponents stated that they would be open to installing a grease trap and other infrastructure needed for a restaurant next to the dispensary. The sidewalk along Main St. will be replaced with new concrete or vertical granite curbing. The proponents are not requesting any waivers or zoning variances at this time and are open to adding some EV charging units. Johnson informed the proponents that even if they don’t immediately have a tenant, they will be required to keep the adjacent unit looking nice.

“We’re purchasing it,” said Ainslie. “We’re in for the long haul.”

The board overall approved of the rendering.

“It’s a very good-looking building,” said Duffy.

However, not everyone was equally positive. Before the hearings began, Johnson told the audience that the board “is not going to relitigate” Town Meeting’s decision to zone South Village for retail marijuana.

“You’re welcome to talk about the project itself,” said Johnson. “If you don’t like how it looks, if you’re concerned about traffic, that’s all free game. But we’re not going to say ‘this shouldn’t be here.’”

That warning was not heeded by Andover residents Jim and Bernadette Lyons, owners of Dandi-Lyons. 

If Lyons’ name also sounds familiar, it’s likely because he recently lost a bid to remain chairman of the Massachusetts GOP, which accrued liabilities of more than $600,000 during his tenure, Politico reports.

Lyons opened by asking for background on the zoning bylaw. Johnson explained that residents deemed the South Village district appropriate for a dispensary.

“Town Meeting approved it,” said Johnson. “That’s where we stand.”

Lyons nevertheless brought up concerns over suitability but was cut off. He then pivoted to traffic and its impact on businesses in the area. Johnson pointed out that the Planning Board will require a traffic study.

“What if that impact puts me out of business?” said Lyons. “I did not have an opportunity to speak at the Town Meeting. I’m not a member of the town of Tewksbury. I live in Andover.”

Dandi-Lyons was recently subject to scrutiny by the Tewksbury Board of Health over pushback by Lyons on the cost of having one ServSafe-certified person present on site per shift to ensure food safety, which may reflect on his concern over traffic further reducing revenue.

Based on a suggestion by Lowder, Lyons indicated that he would take his arguments to the Select Board.

“I’m also really truly concerned about little kids,” said Bernadette Lyons, who also rose to speak. “We’re gonna have people across the street, you know, pop whatever they do. … What is it, recreational marijuana? Are they going to be able to use it, like, in their cars?”

Johnson pointed out that customers are not permitted by law to use products in the parking lot, a point reiterated by Davis, a Tewksbury resident who was Police Commissioner of the City of Boston from 2006 until 2013 and who now runs a security firm engaged by the proponent.

“We’re happy to represent security for the Stories Company,” said Davis. “This is a heavily regulated industry, and the security protocols are pretty much laid out.” 

Next, Dave Giannetta of Collective Premium Cannabis and Brian Grove of Civil Engineers Hancock Associates appeared for the second proposed location. Giannetta operates dispensaries in Billerica and Littleton. 

The 1693 Shawsheen St. location is currently a contractor yard run by MDR Construction, and a large portion of the lot and building would remain with that usage. Grove updated the board on drainage and addressed comments from the Town Engineer and Planner, including a request for a sidewalk to be constructed along the frontage and a master signage plan.

Giannetta said his Billerica retail location got 60 to 70 customers per day when it opened, but the average ticket time is only about four minutes, “similar to a mobile pickup at Dunkin Donuts.”

“It’s such a quick turnaround,” said Giannetta, because most customers order ahead.

The company plans to rent several bays in the existing building, should the application be approved.

“We have an option built into our lease,” if MDR owner Mike Saccone decides to sell, said Giannetta. “It would just be market rate at that time.”

In response to a question from member Vinny Fratalia, Giannetta estimated that the timespan from him signing a host community agreement with Tewksbury to receiving approval from the Cannabis Control Commission is about a year.

“And that’s only because we have existing locations,” he said. 

The CCC meets once a month, so Fratalia suggested that the six-month approval requirement approved by the Select Board as part of the town’s marijuana regulations may need to be revisited.

Both proponents will return on March 13.

The final hearing was for the proposed school/daycare at 770 Main St. Ben Osgood of Ranger Engineering Group asked the board to sign off on the requested waivers. The proposed facility could hold as many as 187 children, and the developer is asking to have fewer parking spots to accommodate a larger building than is allowable by right. 

Fratalia cited the potential for cars being backed up onto Main St. as parents park and walk their children into the center.

“I’m going to have a hard time voting for this project under these conditions,” said Fratalia. “What may fit on paper may not fit on the site.”

Fratalia previously 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. By the end of last night’s questioning, that number had dropped to 38.

Kim Welch, who runs Main Street Learning Academy, a 20-student school and daycare next door to the proposed new facility, said traffic is definitely an issue in the morning, even though she has only 10 children enrolled currently.

“We’ve had parents complain that as they’re pulling into our facility, if they put on their directional, sometimes people are laying on their horns,” said Welch. “It can be a little bit crazy.”  

“You have some potential reconfiguring” to do, said Johnson, while Duffy added that he has safety concerns in regard to drop-offs and pick-ups.

“If one car gets backed up on Main St. and there’s an accident, we’re talking babies here,” said Duffy. “Maybe the project is just too big.”

After significant discussion and suggestions that the proponents consider reducing the size of the facility, the hearing was continued to the Planning Board’s next meeting on March 13.

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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