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12 Takeaways From the June 12 Planning Board Meeting

Packed, marathon session yields bumper crop of continuances to June 26

The Planning Board met last night with all members present. There were no committee reports.

In her report, Town Planner Alex Lowder said that the town’s 2023-2027 Housing Production Plan final draft is complete and included in members’ meeting materials. She asked them to review the draft and promised a formal presentation at the June 26 Planning Board and June 27 Select Board meetings, where she will seek endorsements from both boards before sending the plan off to the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) for certification.

There are two new applications scheduled for the June 26 meeting, a family suite special permit and a sign special permit, in addition to any continued hearings from this meeting. Related, the filing for the 1775 Andover St. — the former extended stay Residence Inn — adaptive reuse 40B project is scheduled for a hearing at the June 29 Zoning Board of Appeals meeting.

Lowder reminded the board that retail marijuana licensing hearings are in progress by the Select Board. For more information, folks can go to the Town website under the Select Board’s page and navigate to the “Retail Marijuana Licenses” tab. The Town Manager’s office updates this page regularly.

Under new business openings, Fringe Hair Studio celebrated its ribbon cutting on Wednesday, June 7. Learn more about the salon. 

The 2 Radcliff Rd. solar canopy and a battery storage system project withdrew its site plan review application without prejudice. Member Jim Duffy asked Lowder to convey his hopes that the proponent can work out the issues and come back before the board.

Michael Hughes appeared for National Grid to request an eight-foot fence around its substation at 1470 Shawsheen St. Member Vinny Fratalia asked if there were any specific security concerns. Hughes responded that security upgrades are happening as substations are brought up to current standards.

Tree House Brewing Company is seeking to redevelop the 2.36-acre former Funland site at 1879 Main St. into a parking lot to handle overflow during events and holidays. According to filings, Tree House paid $2.1 million for the property, which has been vacant since Funland closed in 2002. 

Sarah Maggi Morin, chief of staff for Tree House Brewing, appeared with Meera Cousens of Civil Design Consultants and traffic engineer Shaun Kelly seeking approval to demolish the dilapidated miniature golf course, race track, batting cages and existing lot and add 143 new spaces. There will be a single curb cut on Main St., and the lot will be right-turn-in/right-turn-out only.

The Conservation Commission heard last week from Cousens, who said there were only minor comments from the DPW. 

Kelly pointed out that there is no egress from Airport Rd. or through the adjoining lot. Tree House plans a new wheelchair ramp and expects to work with MassDoT to improve pedestrian crossing safety and timing of the light. The company has submitted a preliminary plan to MassDoT, which had no significant comments.

“This is intended for spot overflow,” said Maggi Morin. “Around the holidays, or if we have a golf tournament.”

🏌️ See more about Tree House’s plans for the course.

She added that there will be trained parking attendants to direct patrons to the new lot as needed and said that the company attempted to work out access with Airport Rd., a private way, without success.

Member Jonathan Ciampa pointed out that events that begin at a specific time could lead to backups and a hazardous situation for pedestrians trying to cross Rt. 38. Ciampa also asked whether MassDoT will add crosswalk signaling and suggested a setup similar to the dedicated pedestrian crossing island in South Tewksbury, near Pets Plus. Kelly said he believed DoT would prefer signaling at the corner. Member Nick Lizotte asked about those who want to make a left out of the lot (not allowed) and bike racks (there will be racks available). 

As Chair Stephen Johnson pointed out, MassDoT controls Rt. 38, and it’s difficult to predict what actions that agency will take. Still, residents hankering for golf course access can take heart that Maggi Morin brought up “a limited number of tee times” and the possibility of a tournament. 

The hearing was continued to June 26.

At the April 24 Planning Board meeting, Daniel Mora of National Development received signoff for an Approval Not Required plan to split 1600 Shawsheen St., the current Holt & Bugbee mill, into two parcels for a future development plan.

Lot #1, the 13.26 subdivided portion of the 22.6 acre lot, is slated to hold a 179,375 square foot warehouse with 10,000 sf of mezzanine office space, 40 loading docks, 148 parking spaces and 12 trailer storage spaces, with a truck turn-around area in the northwest corner. Truck access is provided via the existing curb cut just south of the railroad tracks that bisect Shawsheen. There is a proposed new curb cut for passenger vehicles.

A traffic engineer hired by the proponent said trips to and from the new warehouse should not add more than two seconds of delay on Shawsheen, or about 46 trips in the morning and 49 in the evening. She said the company did not take the freight train into consideration, and that between 2015 and 2019, there were relatively few crashes at the Shawsheen and East intersection.

They were seeking a number of special permits, including increasing the maximum building height to five stories and 60 feet. That is at the discretion of the Board, as are allowing a warehouse use in the Industrial 1 zoning district and reducing the number of parking spaces required.

In response to a question about impact on the neighborhood, the proponents stated that they have no tenants yet for the warehouse and so cannot predict delivery hours.

Johnson said a provision could be added, and should heavy nighttime traffic become a problem, it could be revisited, while Lowder added that many types of tenants would require additional special permits. 

Resident Marc Wallace of 10 Brianna Lee Circle asked for sound studies, a peer review of the traffic study, information on the cumulative effects of the two lots and for specifics about car trips. 

“We’ll take that under advisement,” said Johnson of the sound study and peer review. The site plan review was continued. 

On Lot #2, the Holt & Bugbee lumberyard operation will be condensed and relocated to an irregularly shaped 9.31 acre parcel that wraps around the building housing the East Elite Cheer Gym. It’s being referred to as a “barbell lot” because there are two main parcels connected by a long, narrow roadway.

Daniel Mora and Matthew Costa also appeared for this proposal with Bill Collins of Holt & Bugbee. They were seeking a waiver for parking greater than 500 feet from the building and a special permit to increase the maximum building height. There is no retail activity, so parking is for employees only. Ciampa asked about sidewalks to allow safe access for employees to get from one end of the lot to the other. Collins said they’re trying to keep the road as wide as possible.

Again, residents voiced concerns about the volume of cars at the intersection of East St. and Shawsheen St., especially in light of two separate retail cannabis proposals, for 1699 and 1695 Shawsheen. The owner of 1500 Shawsheen St. also asked about landscaping, three easements he holds on the sites and the obstruction of the view from the street to his building.

Collins said the company will no longer kiln dry lumber on the site, formerly a 24/7 operation.

“We don’t get enough supply out of New England,” he said. “And so that includes the fans that run 24 hours a day that occasionally have belt slipping, or whatever. That includes the boiler that runs 24 hours a day and occasionally has maybe smoking issues, or you might hear the material handling from the silo to the boiler on a summer night. All that will be gone.”

Next up, two new and one continued retail cannabis site reviews.

Given that the Select Board is scheduled to review the two new proposals on June 20 and the continued one tonight, and an approved site plan review is required, all applicants were likely hoping to get signoffs last night. None did.

Per the town’s regulations, “No application may be approved unless the applicant has received site plan approval from the Planning Board. Accordingly, it is the responsibility of the applicant to diligently complete the site plan review process prior to any vote of the Select Board. Failure to receive site plan approval prior to a Select Board vote will result in rejection of the application.”

It’s unclear if the hearings will be delayed. No vote is expected until at least July 18, per Select Board Chair Todd Johnson.

First up, Patrick Nichols, a Tewksbury resident; Mario Chiuccariello of CannaVana, a dispensary in Rockland; and Jim Hanley of Civil Design Consultants appeared for a site plan review for Bella Luna, a cannabis location proposed for the former Tri-Wire site at 890 East St. Chiuccariello clarified that his company would be an operating partner to Bella Luna. 

That location is an existing office building, which, like several other proposals, is in-line with Tewksbury’s preference for marijuana establishments to utilize vacant buildings where possible. The dispensary would be in Suite 2, a leased 5,200 square feet of space with 24 dedicated parking spaces and access from Lumber Lane. Hanley says the company has a DPW review letter that suggests there may be a fee paid in lieu of sidewalks. They are in the process of doing a traffic study, which is due by the end of the week.

Fratalia asked about a loft space, which is occupied by a small medical device company, and whether there could be access to the dispensary from above. Chiuccariello stated that all product will be in a vault overnight. Fratalia also stated that he would like further discussion on the sidewalks. 

“The building itself looks like it needs a little TLC,” said Duffy. He also asked about parking lot lighting and moving the handicapped parking closer to the entrance.

Lizotte asked about a secure loading area; there is no designated spot. Resident David Norman of 35 Kingston Rd. asked about hours of operation. Lowder clarified that the maximum hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. as set by the Select Board. Nichols said they would return to discuss signage. 

The site plan review was continued to June 26. 

Dean Graffeo, cannabis consultant Rebecca Adams and architect Rick Morse appeared next on behalf of Carbonear, which proposes to lease on a long-term basis the vacant lots at 2186 & 2196 Main St., next to Jim Boudreau’s Automotive and bordered by March Rd.

Graffeo is listed as Carbonear owner, with capital from Red Sky Investment Holdings. Rob DiFazio is listed as an operating partner; DiFazio is CEO of cannabis operator CNA stores. He was also at the meeting and explained how security works at his locations, including keeping people from loitering.

“We will be revitalizing and transforming two vacant lots,” said Adams. The company proposes 26 parking spaces and a bike rack. 

“We’re really trying to race to get a traffic study,” said Adams, adding that she hopes to have it within a couple of weeks. Morse said there would be vegetation and fencing to block the building from neighbors and that he has reviewed all DPW comments and sees no issues.

Lizotte expressed concern about the entrance being close to DeCarolis Drive.

“It’s almost like you’ll be forming a four-way intersection,” he said, noting that engineering also flagged this as an issue. 

In response to queries from Duffy, Morse said the company is not at the point of discussing berms or retaining walls. Fratalia commended the company on the completeness of its plan, the design of the building and the lack of another retail component.

Still, the lack of a traffic study was a sticking point: “Traffic ends up being the make or break thing on these sites,” said Johnson. 

Abutter Joshua Bosco of 8 Marshall Rd. said foxes and other animals currently live on the lot and asked about preservation of some of the mature trees on the site. Bosco also pointed out that March Rd. is a dead end and wondered if cars will be making u-turns to access the shop.

View of 2186 & 2196 Main St. from Jim Boudreau’s Automotive

“So, the concept of development with pre-existing lots, which are allowed to be developed with a quote ‘best and highest use,’ I believe the best response is to take that into account and through landscaping with native species, zero scape and low water plants, native plants, pollinator governance, things like this,” said Morse.  

Resident Joe Turcotte of 5 Sunset Circle expressed concerns about trash pickups and other noise as well as lighting and having fencing that will prevent people from cutting through.

Linda Conklin of 2 Madeline Rd. brought up the traffic on Rt. 38

“I’ve lived there for 25 years,” said Conklin. “It’s consistently, year over year, been worse and worse, and it’s to the point now when we go to exit off of March Rd., to get out on 38, you can sit there for like five minutes just trying to edge your way out.”

In fact, at a recent Planning Board meeting, Select Board member Mark Kratman made a similar argument against a proposed retail cannabis site just up the road, next to Donna’s Donuts.

Mark McNeil of March Rd. weighed in to encourage the proponents to consider an existing building space versus new construction.

“I just read that cannabis is not doing so well in Massachusetts,” said McNeil. “So I would recommend an existing space because, you know, we could have another empty space in a couple of years. It might be a good-looking space, but empty.”

🌸 See what a noted cannabis attorney has to say about Tewksbury’s 3 licenses.

Johnson asked for realistic renderings with the planned landscaping and plantings from various angles. This application was also continued to June 26.

A hearing for a third cannabis location, 1695 Shawsheen St., was picked up from May 22. Pure Tewksbury d/b/a Smyth Cannabis, is proposing a Tewksbury location of Lowell-based Smyth on the currently wooded 4.22 acre lot next to Keri Plaza. Pure proposes to clear the land and pave 72 parking spots to serve a 6,600 square foot standalone building; 4,510 sf would be the dispensary, with the remaining space housing Smyth’s corporate offices.

Jim Satires from Pure Tewksbury and civil engineer Jeff Kitteridge said they’re “close” to resolving engineering comments. They showed a rendering of the proposed building and sign. 

“The building design looks great,” said Fratalia. 

Resident David Norman said he was able to review the traffic report, which was several hundred pages. He pointed out there is no mention of needed mitigations at East St. and Dascomb Rd. Because the proponents’ traffic engineer was not at the meeting, they were unable to answer the resident’s concerns.

A previous estimate was 500 vehicles per day, rising to a projected 800.

“The lady mentioned one or two accidents,” said Norman, referring to the engineer for 1600 Shawsheen St. “I must have seen every one of them. I’ve seen plenty of accidents on East and Dascomb Rd.”

Johnson asked the proponents to bring their traffic engineer to the next hearing. Ciampa noted that the Holt & Bugbee study did take into account not one but two retail cannabis locations in the area.

Smyth originally proposed to build in 1699 Shawsheen St., Keri Plaza, adjacent to Luna Rossa in the former Thai bistro and convenience store units. That location is not currently scheduled to be presented to the Select Board.

This review was also continued to June 26.

The Planning Board then picked up a partial occupancy discussion for 935 Main St., the location of the former Tewksbury police station. Developer Mike Saccone of MDR Construction built eight two-bedroom, three-story town­house-style duplexes, and one two-story building with a bottom floor office and two residential units, totaling 18 units — three of them affordable — but is having a dispute with the building inspector on occupancy.

There are also 20 parking spaces for Tewksbury’s senior housing included in the development. Johnson pointed out that without occupancy, seniors are unable to use the parking. Saccone said he would seek to convert the single commercial unit to an ADA-compliant residential unit, though Johnson cautioned against conflating the two matters.

Lowder clarified that the reason for phased occupancy permits is that the town loses its leverage.

“We did have instances where developers were trying to have buildings occupied one by one, but skirting around doing the affordable units, skirting around doing the commercial, and not really committing to the project as a whole,” she said, clarifying that this was not the case with the 935 Main St. project.

“Mr Saccone has done everything we asked,” said Fratilia. “I would vote affirmatively to go ahead and let you get those places rented.”

The rest of the board agreed and voted unanimously to allow occupancy as units are inspected, even though the entire project is not complete.

The Planning Board meets next on July 26

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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