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9 Takeaways from the April 10 Planning Board Meeting

Dispensary owner has paid ‘dark rent’ on Job Lot Plaza site for a year anticipating bylaw change

The Planning Board met Monday night with newcomer Nick Lizotte, who ran unopposed for a two-year term, but without Chair Stephen Johnson.

Vice-Chair Vinny Fratalia ran the meeting.

The board reorganized, with member Jim Duffy nominating Johnson for his fifth term as chair since 2018. Duffy then nominated Fratalia as vice-chair, while Fratalia nominated Jonathan Ciampa, who was elected to a full three-year term, as clerk. All nominations were unanimously accepted, with Fratalia thanking Johnson for returning as chair.

In her report, Town Planner Alex Lowder said she had reached out to developer John Sullivan in regard to the removal of a mature sycamore tree at 24 Pleasant St., as requested by Duffy. Lowder reported that the developer does not plan on planting this season because it would impede construction. 

“They do still owe us a cut sheet for the tree that they are proposing,” said Lowder. She also expects a revised landscape plan. Both Ciampa and Duffy reiterated that the board wants confirming documentation on information that was presented in a prior meeting — species of tree, maturity and so on.

In addition, Lowder and the town’s building commissioner met with developer and Board of Health member Robert Scarano in regard to board interest in the unfinished historic property at 17 Lee St. Scarano has agreed to invite the commissioner to the site to evaluate the work that has been done to date and discuss a path forward.

Finally, the Tewksbury Community Market will re-open for the 2023 season on Thursday, June 15 at Livingston St. The team has started scheduling vendors and is working to get everyone set up with appropriate permits and licenses. 

“We’re also working to get a new machine set up that can disburse SNAP food food benefits for folks to use,” she said. Tewksbury’s Community Market is newly SNAP-certified.  

Residents with questions about this year’s market can contact Lowder or Robert Hayes at the library.

The Planning Board has sponsored two warrant articles for consideration at Annual Town Meeting, which will be held May 1 and May 3 at Tewksbury Memorial High School. See articles of interest here. 

One article contains three clarification items to address issues with the bylaw, which the board agreed align with the intent of the law.

“This is a living document,” said Lowder. “I think that we can expect these things to kind of trickle in over the next couple of years to only improve upon the product voted in.”

The other is to propose a new section that would allow for the conversion of certain commercial spaces into affordable residential housing units, as Lowder discussed at a previous meeting. The idea is to both use space that has been vacant, sometimes for years, and increase the town’s affordable housing stock, which is critical to keep Tewksbury above the threshold for 40B projects. 

“This provision would be applicable to a finite number of projects, only those which were permitted with both residential and commercial units as a result of these former overlay districts,” she said.

Applicants would have to apply for a special permit for the conversion, giving the Planning Board discretion for where these occur.

“This change will be a small way to address the severe housing crisis in the region, particularly for Tewksbury, whose affordable rental waiting list has over 500 families,” she said. “These units will be rented at 80% area median income, AMI, which at present time is a minimum required annual income of at least $80,000.”

Lowder said she has received inquiries from owners of projects along Rt. 38, so there definitely is interest. Owners will need to assume the responsibility of following a different section of the building code and making sure that units are suitable for residences and the project is financially feasible.

The Planning Board voted to recommend adoption of both articles, as did the Finance Committee later that evening.

Next, Scarano appeared with Dick Cuoco to discuss a citizen’s petition he filed to address an issue with a large setback being required on one-acre properties zoned MFD (multifamily development).

“There’s actually only three properties right now that are zoned multifamily that haven’t been built on,” said Scarano. The issue is a requirement for a 50-foot setback. Scarano and Cuoco are seeking to reduce that to 15 feet on the three, one-acre sites.

“I can clearly understand that, but I don’t want to handicap a future board,” said Duffy, citing a developer that might come in with a larger lot asking for a 15-foot setback. The two assured the board that there are only three lots that would be affected.

The Planning Board voted to recommend adoption of the article as amended, warning the petitioners that complexity may cause issues at Town Meeting.

Hearings for dispensary projects at 1693 Shawsheen St. and 1 Main St. as well as the daycare at 770 Main St. and the solar project at 2 Radcliff Road requested continuances.

Event Space Proposed

Ketia Valmont and Tia Santos of Divine Lavish Events appeared to request a special permit to open an event space at 553 Main St., Job Lot plaza. The 2,100 square foot space would be in the unit next to The Barkery, and proponents cited the loss of event space at the Tewksbury Country Club as a driver for starting the business in town.

“We wouldn’t want to go over 70 guests in there,” said Santos. “It would be to have baby showers, small birthday parties, sweet 16, and that sort of thing.”

Events could extend to 10 or 11 p.m., with earlier hours for children’s parties, mainly from Thursday through Sunday. The proponents have 15 to 20 years’ experience running events at spaces such as the Elks or in homes, often bringing a tent and flooring in addition to decor.

Fratalia questioned why residents would prefer this space over existing options like Wamesit Lanes, Luna Rossa or the Elks. Santos said customization in theme and that people may bring in their own food; there would be the ability to warm catered food but not to cook. As to alcohol, anyone running a party where drinks are served would need to acquire the required permits and hire a licensed bartender. No alcohol could be brought in without approval.

The special permit was approved unanimously.

Next up, another proposal for 553 Main St., an 8,700 square foot dispensary between Job Lots and Papa Ginos in the space currently used between Thanksgiving and Christmas for a pop-up crafter’s market.

The proponents own Lazy River Products, based in Dracut, and have been in the cannabis business since legalization. The existing 40,000 square foot facility in Dracut features cultivation, lab and kitchen facilities and a retail operation.

“We control all our own supply chain,” said Lazy River Products CEO William Cassotis. “All of our products will be coming from Dracut to feed the Tewksbury location. So it just works very well with our setup as far as proximity to our home base and our corporate headquarters and fulfillment.”

There would be 38 parking spaces in the lot reserved for the dispensary, which will be open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. The company wants an electronic sign board, which was a sticking point for another proposal.

“We can’t really tell you what to put on the sign, but I can almost guarantee that if something starts popping up on the signs coming down the road, that there will be an issue,” said Duffy.

Cassotis pushed back, pointing out that electronic signs are “up and down Main Street” and said that messaging will be in line with what’s allowed by the state.

Ciampa reiterated that bike racks are a priority for the board and asked about security for stocking product. Cassotis said that there is a roll-up door at the front of the building to allow vans to drive into the building for very secure delivery, behind a locked, closed door. That was a major draw for the site.

“We’ve been paying dark rent on this space for over a year now,” said Cassotis. “We were anticipating you guys flipping your legislation, and we knew that this was the perfect location.”

Residents Thomas Skowronski of 45 Navillus Rd. disagreed, pointing out that there is a sober house adjacent to that plaza and expressing concern over deliveries. 

The board then took up another dispensary site plan review, at 1699 Shawsheen St., for Pure Tewksbury, Inc. DBA Smyth Cannabis. At the hearing were David DiCenso, owner of Luna Rossa; Jim Statires of Pure Tewksbury; and traffic engineer Ken Cram from Bayside Engineering.

The proposal is a Tewksbury branch of Lowell-based Smyth Cannabis in the former E Market and Thai Bistro locations, next to Luna Rossa. The dispensary would be about 3,690 square feet.

To address the always tight parking at the location, the applicants plan to add a new lot adjacent to the site, at 1695 Shawsheen St., with 38 spots to serve about 25 employees of the proposed dispensary and existing retailers within Keri Plaza. This will allocate all 92 parking spaces for customers, with 40 dedicated to the dispensary. There will be a walkway connecting the sites for use by employees. 

The proponents didn’t weigh in on whether that number of spaces is in line with what was used by the convenience store and bistro, but they do project about 780 daily vehicle trips, from 390 cars.

“There’s a slight increase in traffic volumes but not enough to cause any significant measures that would require any future traffic improvements,” said Cram.

Residents from the East St. area, including Lorraine Korte, disagreed, citing already heavy traffic at the Shawsheen and East intersection and overflow parking now happening at the gas station across the street and questioning whether an employee lot will be enough to offset the added volume.

“I used to go over to that plaza quite a bit,” said Korte. “I don’t go over there any longer unless I have to. It’s far too busy.”

There will be a peer review of the traffic study, which Lowder will provide to neighborhood residents.

Both dispensary applications were continued to the next meeting on April 24.

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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