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7 Takeaways from the March 27 Planning Board Meeting

The board approved its first site plan review for a dispensary, at the former Sal’s location

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

In her report, Town Planner Alex Lowder shared that the town’s new Housing Production Plan will be supplemented with results of community outreach efforts and presented to the Planning Board for approval on Monday, April 24 and the Select Board on Tuesday, April 25. 

“The most recent housing workshop was held on March 16 and was very successful,” said Lowder.

She also noted that several proposed zoning changes discussed in recent months will have a public hearing at the next meeting, on Monday, April 10.

The applicant for one of the four dispensary site reviews continued from the last meeting, at 1 Main St., requested a continuation to April 10. The other three were back with updates, along with the Lumber Lane project and a new raised car canopy solar power storage facility.

Meera Cousens of Civil Design Consultants appeared for Cannafords, which is seeking to locate a dispensary at 2504 Main St., the former Sal’s Pizza location. 

Cousens informed the board that the applicant received a letter from the Tewksbury DPW requiring that a sidewalk be constructed; fee in lieu is not an option, so the revised plan reflects sidewalks along the frontage. Cousens also informed the board that there will be a net reduction of 680 square feet in impervious surface. 

Plans filed with the board show the building will stay largely the same. There are more parking spaces than are required under the zoning bylaw. 

The public hearing was closed and waivers approved unanimously. Next stop: the Select Board.

Watch the full meeting here.

Cousens stayed to discuss a site plan special permit and a land disturbance permit required to construct a two-story, 9,600 square foot industrial garage and contractor’s yard behind the existing building at 118 Lumber Lane. Cousins said that a drainage easement has been added on the abutting lot at 120 Lumber Lane to avoid flooding on Industrial Ave. and that any signage will be under the dimensional requirements. 

Both permits were approved unanimously, with conditions as noted by the DPW.

Julia Magliozzo, Kate Noto and Michael Shelter appeared for Ecogy Energy, which is looking to construct a raised solar canopy and battery energy storage facility at 2 Radcliff Road, on the Thermo Fisher Scientific campus. 

Ecogy develops and finances renewable energy generation projects across the United States and Caribbean. Shelter addressed maneuverability for first responders, safety features and emergency operations.

“We do have an action plan in place,” said Shelter. “It will include training with the local fire department and other emergency response teams to better understand the best way to perform a safe shutdown in the system. We’ll have a mapped out, exact location of the shut off and disconnect components. Everything will be labeled properly.” 

The company will also be responsible for decommissioning the system at the end of its useful life, and a representative can be at the site within 24 hours. 

The solar project will produce 1.3 MW hours of electricity per year, and the battery energy storage system will result in approximately a 15% reduction in on-site peak demand. 

“The project will provide clean electricity to the local grid without impacting open space, trees or greenfield areas,” said Shelter. “It utilizes an already developed impervious surface within the office research zone.” 

Some larger trees will need to be removed, said Shelter. On later questioning, Noto said the number will be minimal, and if required the company would look to find a space to plant replacement trees.

Member Vinny Fratalia asked for a rendering of the project to be presented at the next meeting and about any hazardous materials on the site. As with the approved energy storage facility on South St., the main hazard is the lithium-ion batteries in the storage arrays. There are leakage sensors to detect any chemicals.

“Take a look to see if there’s someplace to put some of the trees back,” said Chair Stephen Johnson. “We’re a green community, so this is the kind of thing that we’re going to want to have.”

The public hearing was continued to April 10.

Next up, the daycare proposed for 770 Main St. The board had raised concerns about the size of the building, number of parking spaces, proximity of parking to the property lines and safety of families entering and leaving the facility. In response, the owner reduced the size of the building from 10,000 square feet to 9,000 square feet and will accommodate 150 students versus 187. The bylaw requires 36 parking spaces, which can now fit, so the company no longer needs a waiver.

Ben Osgood of Ranger Engineering Group asked the board to weigh in on the plans so he can come back at the next meeting for final sign-off. Members overall approved of the changes.

“What I don’t see here, and we talked about it at one of our last meetings, is any sidewalk area for people getting out of their cars,” said Fratalia. “Safety is my first priority.”

Osgood said the company will add striping along the rear of the parking spaces to create a crosswalk. The lot is one-way. The public meeting was continued to April 10.

At this point Johnson tabled the remainder of the agenda to allow for recognition of Vice-Chair Robert Fowler’s 40 years on the Planning Board. See highlights here.

After concluding presentations and a short break, the meeting reopened with 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 and design engineer Ian Ainslie of Meisner Brem appeared for The Stories Company, which is proposing new construction on an empty lot 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 a future retail or restaurant use. Romano said that while there are a few outstanding comments from town staff, the company has provided a signage plan and a 3D rendering of how the rear of the shop would appear to abutting homeowners. 

As with the daycare, the parking lot is one-way. Ainsley said the company expects 50 vehicle trips per hour on the high end. 

“Seeing 300 to 400 customers per day would be fantastic,” said Romano, especially if Tewksbury has three dispensaries. He based that estimate on a number of shops that he represents.

“I want to commend you guys for a great package you put together for us, your attention to the details,” said Fratalia. “Once we get some feedback from engineering, I think we’ll be good to go.”

Fowler concurred and noted that the plan includes additional handicap parking spots. 

Select Board member Mark Kratman rose to question the applicant’s traffic estimates. Any company requesting one of Tewksbury’s three retail marijuana licenses must go before the Select Board, which has the authority to enter into a Host Community Agreement, a fact Romano alluded to.

“I just find it hard to believe,” said Kratman of the customer estimate. “And you can tell me there’s 50 people, you can tell me there’s 20 people, I know. I’ve been there. I lived it. Anybody that lives in this town, if you tell them it’s a minimal impact, they’re gonna laugh you right off the floor.”

For permitting purposes, the expected number of customers to a dispensary is dictated by the Institute of Transportation Engineers Trip Generation Manual, and so is uniform across all proposals based on square footage. A general estimate is 185 cars on a weekday and 227 on a Saturday, below the 300 to 400 that Romano suggested would be a goal for the company.

Ainsley said that the amount of parking, which is above what’s required, would keep cars from backing up onto Rt. 38. 

“The road is what the road is,” said Johnson of Main St. “To not have any impact would require us to have bad businesses that are unsuccessful and don’t have anybody coming to them, which seems counterproductive.” 

In addition, the company would need to get a permit from Mass DoT as Rt. 38 is a state road. 

Lowder suggested a right-turn-only exit from the lot, especially during peak hours, would offset some traffic impacts. Johnson said the board would await feedback and reserved the right to implement Lowder’s suggestion, which was agreeable to the applicant.

“We’d love to come back in two weeks and potentially wrap this up,” said Romano.

Finally, the board picked up a continued hearing for Collective Premium Cannabis 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, plans to rent several bays in the building. Like the other dispensaries, the company has worked to address comments from town staff since the last meeting.

“We have a level of confidence that we’ll be able to address anything remaining in very short order,” said Brian Boudreau of Hancock Associates.

Sticking points are stormwater management, traffic, sidewalks and signage — specifically a request for an electronic message board sign.  

There is a net reduction of impervious surface, so Boudreau sees stormwater as a nonissue. He also said traffic studies show a minimal impact, though there is some disagreement with the peer reviewer, which Boudreau classified as “semantics.”

“The consensus is we’re not going to be detrimental to the area,” he said.

After listening to comments from the board, Collective owner Dave Giannetta said he’s willing to abandon the electronic message board. As for traffic, Giannetta previously said that, based on his experience and Tewksbury’s population, he would expect 350 customers for his location in a 10-hour business day. 

Sidewalks are a more significant sticking point given a suggestion by the applicant that construction be delayed significantly or waived.

“Why on earth would you not build a sidewalk when you’re doing construction?” asked Duffy. “Why would you want to wait five years for the sidewalk?”

Giannetta cited cost.

“There is a sidewalk directly across the street, so our thought was if we added a crosswalk from our location to the sidewalk, that would be somewhat of a compromise,” he said. “Mainly it’s the expense of it — you know, it’s an expensive ordeal.”

While he’d prefer to defer that expense, if the board insists, he will “have to find a way to make it happen during construction.”

Constructing and connecting sidewalks to promote walkability is a key goal of the new Zoning Bylaw, as Duffy pointed out.

This hearing was also continued to April 10.

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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