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10+ Takeaways from the July 17 Planning Board Meeting

Three retail cannabis applicants still in need of approvals receive signoffs

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

In her report, Town Planner Alex Lowder shared with the board a draft ADU (accessory dwelling unit) by-right bylaw that is under review in Lowell. The idea is to remove barriers for small-apartment rentals and enable homeowners who can no longer maintain larger homes to supplement their income by renting out a portion of their properties.

“The Lowell bylaw is similar to what other communities are proposing for adoption,” she said. “I would like to get some feedback about working on something like this for October Special Town Meeting.”

Lowder also reported that:

> Reminder emails have gone out to project owners that are either receiving or are close to receiving final occupancy to ensure timely delivery of final site as-builts.

> The Wood Haven 55+ congregate residential housing project has received its building permit, so renovations should begin soon. 

> A seminar for local real estate agents will be presented on Aug. 9 by Lowder and the town’s Conservation Manager. Learn more and register.

> The MBTA Communities Survey launched by the town has received about 275 responses. It will be open to residents wishing to provide input for possible locations for a compliant zoning overlay district through July 28. Learn more and find the link.

> Wearing her economic development hat, Lowder met with a local director for Entrepreneurship for All, commonly known as “E for All,” which provides programs and training for those wishing to start their own businesses. 

“Many vendors from the Tewksbury Community Market, including Craic Hot Sauce, Empanada Dada and Purple Carrot Bakery, have been graduates of this program,” said Lowder. She plans to attend a Pitch Contest event at Mill No. 5 to see if there are any budding entrepreneurs who may be interested in starting their businesses in Tewksbury.

The board addressed a request for a phased occupancy plan at the residential development now getting underway at 2131 Main St., the vacant lot across from Boudreau’s that’s been slated for 16 townhouses — 15 residential and one commercial — since 2019. Attorney Chris Doherty said the builder would like to complete one unit, sell it, then move on. 

“If we do this project all at once, the likelihood of financial failure is pretty significant,” said Doherty.

The town has an interest in ensuring affordable units are completed early in the project, and the board asked about that aspect. Doherty said the two affordable units would not be clustered, and that there are currently interested buyers.

Member Jim Duffy pushed back on allowing a phased approach without a timeline. Doherty estimated eight months per building. Duffy said he would want to see a clear schedule and plan, a request member Jonathan Ciampa and others agreed with. There were also concerns about the safety of early residents as construction continues.

Chair Stephen Johnson suggested five phases, with the commercial unit being built last and one affordable unit being in Phase 2 and the second in Phase 5. After some discussion, the board voted unanimously to approve that approach with the caveat that they receive updated plans via Lowder.

The board expeditiously approved a family suite application at 174 French St. and a sign special permit for 1438 Main St., Tewksbury Dental Associates. 

The 1695 Main St. hearing was taken out of order to accommodate the applicant’s traffic engineer. This is the proposed Smyth cannabis location on the currently wooded 4.22 acre lot next to Keri Plaza. The plan specifies 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.

Petitioners said they’re “close” to resolving engineering comments. They showed a new rendering of the proposed site and presented an updated signage plan. Member Nick Lizotte asked about the proximity of a walkway to the Dunkin Donuts drive-through; the plan now has a safer pedestrian pathway and some driveway modifications to add a separation. With only one comment from engineering pending, the board unanimously approved the site plan and land disturbance permit.

The board then picked up its review of Tree House Brewing’s conversion of the former Funland site to overflow parking. Several residents spoke against the proposal based on expectations of traffic backups on Rt. 38 as an increased number of pedestrians cross from the overflow lot, and the risk of cars failing to stop when making a left off Livingston St.

The board also expressed concerns over stormwater management based on DPW comments.

There is already a fairly busy crosswalk at that corner, and Vice Chair Vinny Fratalia clarified that there will not, in fact, be a sky bridge constructed over Main St. This past weekend, the Funland lot was already in use by Tree House patrons. 

“I appreciate the concerns,” said Johnson. “Some of this is up to Mass Highway; that’s out of our hands.”  He added that there is a clear need for additional parking to keep customers from taking spaces in the lot that serves Angelina’s, La Vita Dolce and other businesses. Ciampa stated that he hopes MassDOT takes into account resident safety, while members asked about encouraging carpooling and use of public transportation or a shuttle program. The hearing was continued to the Aug. 21 meeting.

Daniel Mora of National Development appeared for Holt & Bugbee, which is seeking a site plan review, land disturbance permit and special permits for 1600 Main St. Mora asked about the requirement for a peer reviewed traffic study, given the detailed reports already submitted for cannabis proposals at 1695 and 1699 Shawsheen St.  In April, Holt & Bugbee received signoff on a plan to split its lot into two parcels. Lot #1, the 13.26 subdivided portion of the 22.6 acre lot, is slated to hold a 179,375 square foot warehouse. The Holt & Bugbee lumberyard operation will be condensed and relocated to Lot 2, an irregularly shaped 9.31 acre parcel that wraps around the building housing the East Elite Cheer Gym.

Duffy raised a concern based on a letter from an abutter’s attorney related to a required easement; Mora classified that as a “private matter” between landowners rather than a matter for the Planning Board. Johnson cautioned that closing the hearing could result in the petitioner having to return to the board. The hearing was also continued to the Aug. 21 meeting.

Next up, continued site plan reviews for the remaining two of the three companies seeking retail cannabis licenses that lacked the required Planning Board signoffs. The Select Board is expected to consider all applicants tonight.

Jim Hanley of Civil Design Consultants, resident Patrick Nichols of Bella Luna and Kirsten Braun of Chappell Engineering Associates appeared for a continued site plan review for Bella Luna, a 650 sf cannabis location proposed for the former Tri-Wire site at 890 East St.  The hearing was pushed forward from last month so the applicants could receive a peer review of the traffic study as requested by Lizotte.

Braun said the peer analysis agreed with the original study that showed no significant increase in traffic. The largest traffic volume increase is expected on East St., with 11 to 17 additional vehicles during peak hours, or one additional vehicle every three and a half to five and a half minutes.

At the last meeting, Hanley informed the board of an added 14-foot-wide loading area and new shrubs added to screen the site. New additions per the peer reviewer include a stop bar and signage to increase safety when exiting the lot and limits on the height of snow storage.

“Thanks for doing the peer review and traffic study,” said Lizotte. 

Fratalia suggested perhaps using about $11,000 in fee-in-lieu funds to put some sidewalks on East St. The necessary waivers and site plan were approved unanimously.

Next, resident Dean Graffeo, cannabis consultant Rebecca Adams, architect Rick Morse and Maximo Palanco and Hilary Holmes of Langan Engineering appeared on behalf of Carbonear, which proposes to lease and combine the lots at 2186 & 2196 Main St., next to Jim Boudreau’s Automotive and bordered by March Rd. 

At past meetings, the lack of a traffic study was a sticking point, as were renderings of the building and landscaping. Lizotte had also expressed concern about stormwater and the proximity of the entrance to DeCarolis Drive. 

Adams presented updated drawings that showed a “barn aesthetic,” in response to comments from Johnson. Palanco discussed the traffic study, which was based on MassDOT standards and took into consideration other approved projects in the area. He said he expects no impact.

“There’s not going to be, basically, noticeable traffic impacts in the area, and the roadway network can sufficiently handle the traffic here,” said Palanco. 

There are updates to snow storage, curbing and responses to other requests from the town engineer. Ciampa pointed out that the rendering shows outsize trees and vehicles that make the building appear smaller.

“The roof in that rendering looks flatter than it actually will be,” said Ciampa, asking if the pitch can be reduced. “I feel we’re going to have a very large, very out-of-place streetfront presence.”

Johnson praised the position of the building with traffic in the back, the additional architectural elements and the plantings. A March Rd. abutter questioned fencing to separate the lot from his property; Johnson said there will be a significant buffer. The board unanimously approved the required waivers and the site plan dependent on meeting conditions set by the town.

Finally, Fratalia asked about the former Mirabella’s Bakery at 836 Main St. That building is set to become the Brelundi Italian test kitchen after a complete interior renovation and some exterior improvements, including the demolition of the existing house on the property to provide more parking. Fratalia said he has not seen activity; Lowder said she has spoken with the owner, and a new site plan review is expected in August. She said mid- to late fall is the target for opening.

The next Planning Board meeting will be Aug. 21.  

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.

One Comment

  1. Alfred Mancini Alfred Mancini July 23, 2023

    I’m extremely disappointed by the SB’s ruling.

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