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7 Takeaways from the March 13 Planning Board Meeting

Four proposed marijuana dispensaries presented updated proposals, and four site reviews were continued to March 27

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

In member reports, Jonathan Ciampa said the Elementary School Building Committee is still dealing with punch list and warranty items, which is typical for a major facility, and answering some requests for additional furnishings.

“Generally everything seems to be working well,” said Ciampa. “We have about six to eight months of commissioning, close out, MSBA review, all of that, but we’re looking very good.”

In her Town Planner’s report, Alexandra Lowder invited residents to join the town and NMCOG tomorrow, Thursday, March 16 from 5:30 – 6:30 p.m., via Microsoft Teams, to discuss the results of a recent housing survey; the housing production plan process; and how the town can work toward better, more affordable housing. 

“The town has been working with NMCOG on the plan for the past couple of months,” said Lowder. “Participants are encouraged to discuss possible strategies to create a vision for equitable, affordable housing in town.” Find more info and the link here.

Lowder shared that she spoke with developer and Board of Health member Robert Scarano in regard to the Lee House. As discussed at the last meeting, a resident raised a question about the current, long-unfinished state of the historic home. Lowder said she and the building commissioner will meet with Scarano on Friday to discuss a plan going forward.

Updates to the Stretch building code — that is, an above-code appendix that emphasizes energy-efficient construction — go into effect on July 1. Anyone planning a new building or renovations should check with Lowder or an architect to ensure they are in compliance. Residents can find a one-page cheat sheet on the Community Development page of the town’s website. As an example, all new single- and two-family residences must have the infrastructure installed for at least one electric vehicle (EV) charging station. 

Finally, she congratulated La Vita Dolce on its successful soft opening and noted that Eco Auto plans a grand opening on Friday and Saturday between noon and 2 p.m. All residents are invited to drop by.

The board then heard from Public Works Director Kevin Hardiman and Tony Wespiser of Weston and Sampson for a continued 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.

Hardiman noted some changes, including moving the entrance to better accommodate fire apparatus, and requested and received a unanimous final site plan approval. 

Watch the full meeting here.

Next the board did in-depth continuing site plan reviews of proposed marijuana dispensaries.

Note that the expected number of customers to a dispensary is dictated by the Institute of Transportation Engineers Trip Generation Manual, so is uniform across all proposals based on square footage. A general estimate is 185 cars on a weekday and 227 cars on a Saturday.

Attorney David Plunkett appeared on behalf of the applicant seeking a license for a proposed dispensary at 1 Main St., Simon’s Service Center, an approximately 1,500 sf building directly across from the entrance to Stadium Plaza. 

Architect Jessie Moberg of Caveney Architecture + Construction said the proponents don’t plan to expand the size of the building. It will be fully renovated and brought up to code; see above images. Moberg describes it as “a little bit of a modern farmhouse look, a lot of stone, natural wood” in keeping with the branding of Full Harvest Moonz, which has locations in Lowell and Haverhill.  

In response to a query from member Vinny Fratalia, Janet Kupris, co-founder and CEO of Full Harvest Moonz, said that the company has a long-term lease on the property with an option to purchase. Fratalia also questioned the small size of the existing building. The architect responded that there is enough space for the proposed use.

Vice chair Bob Fowler pointed out that a number of companies have proposed projects for the 1 Main St. property, but it’s a difficult and high-traffic site, given the 495 intersection. The proponents agreed to adjust the traffic pattern so that cars circle one way around the building, and it will be right turn only out of the lot onto Rt. 38. 

The board requested to continue the discussion. However, like other proponents, Plunkett pushed back, citing a desire to be among the first to bring a proposal to the Select Board. 

There are 11 addresses currently under consideration for dispensaries: 1 Main St., 553 Main St. #2, 2122 Main St., 2186-2196 Main St., 2212 Main St., 2504 Main St., 890 East St., 913 East St., 1693 Shawsheen St., 1695 Shawsheen St. and 1699 Shawsheen St. 

“Time is of the essence,” said Plunkett. The hearing was continued to March 27. 

In a break from marijuana, attorney Kristine Hung of Riemer Braunstein asked the Board to modify a previously approved site plan to reduce from 87,000 to 65,000 square feet the size of a warehouse at 30 Commerce Way, set on about 12 acres behind an existing building. Hung cited a changing capital market and reduced demand for warehouse space. 

When the project was first approved, Trull Rd. and Old Main St. residents expressed concern about truck traffic impacting their neighborhoods and the safety of children and walkers in the area, given the tight turns and traffic from cars waiting to get onto Rt. 38.

In terms of traffic, the size reduction was called “inconsequential” in reducing the number of truck trips by the peer reviewer. The board signed off on the site plan modification, contingent on town engineer approval, by a vote of 4 -1, with member Jim Duffy voting no.

Next, the board heard from attorney Blake Mensing and Jim Hanley of Civil Design Consultants on behalf of property owner Stephen Doherty on a site plan review for Sundaze, at 2504 Main St., the former Sal’s Pizza location. 

Under the plans filed with the board, the building will stay largely the same. A point of contention is the town’s request for sidewalks to be installed in front of the building. Hanley suggested paying a fee in lieu of.

“We didn’t think the sidewalk was a realistic, reasonable addition to this just based on the fact that we need 120 feet of new sidewalk for an existing site,” he said.

A resident called out the trash being generated by patrons of Hobart’s liquors, including nips and needles, but Mensing pushed back saying that cannabis businesses are highly regulated and secured, with on-site consumption strictly prohibited. 

This proposal was also continued to March 27, likewise despite concerns over speed.

“My hope would be that the board would be consistent in requiring the same thing from other cannabis applicants so my client — who I believe was the first to apply — isn’t sort of lapped by virtue of these relatively minor things to address,” said Mensing. “That’s all I’m saying.”

The Board moved a mile or so up the road to 2122 Main St., a continued review of the proposed The Stories Company dispensary adjacent to Donna’s Donuts. Attorney Valerio Romano of VGR Law Firm and design engineer Ian Ainslie of Meisner Brem provided updates, including a new landscaping and screening plan with “Green Giant” arborvitae and fencing and changes to the site plan to accommodate fire apparatus.

The plan is for a 5,400 square foot building, with half of that the dispensary and the remaining 2,700 square feet for a future retail, office or restaurant use. There is no housing component. The Stories Company has a P&S agreement for the property. 

Romano said he doesn’t feel that the dispensary would compete with Donna’s for parking — an assertion board members and several abutting Hill St. residents took issue with.

“Donna’s is definitely a family gathering place,” said Ciampa. “A lot of people come there after church, the Methodist Church is right down the street, a few others.”

There was extensive discussion of traffic within the lot; as with three of the other proposals, a one-way traffic flow was suggested.

The site plan review was continued to March 27.

Finally, the board picked up a continued hearing for Collective Premium Cannabis’ proposal at 1693 Shawsheen St. That location is currently a contractor yard run by MDR Construction, and a large portion of the lot and building would remain with that usage. Collective, which has two existing locations, will be renting several bays in the building with a 10-year lease and two five-year options.

Collective owner Dave Giannetta sought to address remaining outstanding comments.

A full traffic report is expected in a day or two. As to customer expectations, Giannetta said that, from “an operator’s perspective,” he bases estimates on town population. Billerica has 45,000 residents and one dispensary, and that location sees, on average, 500 customers per day. Littleton  has one shop for 12,000 people and sees 200 customers per day.

Tewksbury has 31,000 residents and will likely have three dispensaries; he estimates 350 customers for his location in a 10-hour business day. He previously said customers are in and out in about four minutes. 

One of several waiver requests for Giannetta is Tewksbury’s bike rack requirement.

“How dead set against having a bike rack are you?” said Ciampa, stating that Tewksbury is a green community, and the goal is to be fully sidewalked and less dependent on cars. That sentiment was echoed by Duffy, who suggested an employee might want to ride a bike to work.

Fratalia requested a traffic peer review and asked if Giannetta planned on a message board sign. He does, but that ran into opposition.

As with the other three site reviews, the 1693 Shawsheen St. proposal was continued to March 27.

“I want to thank you for your insight that you’ve given us,” said member Bob Fowler. Besides numbers based on his other locations, Giannetta offered tours of his Billerica store to any members who wished to see a working operation.

Finally, in old business, Duffy asked about a promised cut sheet on the mature sycamore tree that is to be replanted in town center to replace one cut down without authorization. Lowder said the sheet had not been submitted but that she would follow up.

In new business, Johnson called out a unanimous Mass. Supreme Judicial Court ruling that states that while “civility, of course, is to be encouraged, it cannot be required” by government. So wrote State Supreme Judicial Court Justice Scott Kafker of last week’s unanimous decision overturning the town of Southborough’s public comment code of conduct.

“Once they get up there to speak, they can pretty much say whatever they want, call us whatever they want,” said Johnson. “I can’t stop them.”

In response, he suggested possibly limiting the public comment period to three minutes and adopting a policy of nonresponse, a la the Tewksbury School Committee.

“We don’t do that because we like to try to interact and get answers and whatnot,” said Johnson. 

While there was a somewhat contentious exchange at the last meeting with Andover resident Jim Lyons, in general, speakers at Planning Board meetings are respectful, so this may be a solution in search of a problem.

“After speaking with town counsel, if you choose to implement a time limit, then … we wouldn’t stop them if they do go off topic, or if they do start to veer into territory that may not be applicable,” said Lowder.

The next Planning Board meeting will be March 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.


  1. Kathleen Kimble Kathleen Kimble March 15, 2023

    Thanks again to Lorna for her reporting of these town meetings. I always appreciate your reporting!

    • Lorna Garey Lorna Garey Post author | March 15, 2023

      Thank you! The March 27 meeting should be a doozy.

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