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Planning Board Hears Update On Long-Delayed North St. Hotel Project

Scarano says several chains are interested in the site; Sarina Way residents also turned out in force

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

Hearings for the Holt & Bugbee lot split and a 30-unit apartment building at 1167 – 87 Main St. were continued to Oct. 30 by request of the applicants. A few residents were in attendance to address the board on the latter project. 

In her Town Planner’s report, Community/Economic Development Manager Alex Lowder shared that Planet Fitness will be at the Oct. 30 meeting seeking a sign special permit for its new gym at 553 Main St. 

Lowder also discussed the results of the Oct. 12 public feedback session for the MBTA Communities Zoning that was held last week at the Tewksbury Senior Center. That meeting was meant to discuss the public safety/public works and dimensional features of the proposed districts, but it devolved into an often redundant Q&A session, with Lowder correcting a number of misconceptions. 

She plans to present findings on all sites to the Select Board on Oct. 24 and to the Planning Board on Oct. 30. From there, two sites will be selected to be submitted to the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities (EOHLC) for a preliminary compliance review. 

Lowder highlighted some upcoming events:
Fall Fun Day will be Friday, Oct. 27 from 2 – 6 p.m. on the Town Common
Applefest will be Saturday, Oct. 28 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at TMHS
Safe Halloween is Sunday, Oct. 29 from 1 – 3 p.m. at TMHS

Jeff Sarra of Batten Bros. signs appeared for the Citizens Bank at 295 Main St., in the Walmart lot. The bank is updating its branding and is looking to replace all of its signage. The three replacements will be in the same locations and somewhat smaller than the previous signs. A special permit is required based on the number of signs. It was approved unanimously.

Brad Capadanno of Capadanno & Son Construction and Cameron Rothfuss of Consolidated Electrical Distributors appeared seeking a special permit for a new CED wholesale showroom at the JSR office park at 1059 East St., in the space formerly occupied by the Peterbilt store. This will be the company’s twenty-fifth store in New England. A use special permit was required based on some reconfiguration in the unit to increase showroom space. It was approved unanimously.

Meera Cousens and Jim Hanley of Civil Design Consultants and developer Arnie Martel appeared for Martel’s proposed three-story, climate-controlled, 32,300 square-foot self-service storage facility. The approximately one acre site at 911 – 913 East St. currently houses D&G Landscaping and ZP Marble & Granite. Two existing buildings will be demolished, and the storage facility will be new construction with 12 parking spaces. 

Martel agreed to add a bike rack, as is required in the new zoning bylaw, and said customers will likely be able to rent a storage unit online and pick up a key fob. There will be granite curbing and bituminous concrete sidewalks and onsite security such that there is no need for a gate that could lead to cars being backed up onto East St. The hearing was continued to Oct. 30

Cousens and Hanley stayed on for the site plan review for 1879 Main St., the Tree House Brewing Co. overflow lot planned for the former Funland site. 

“We have a difference of opinion with DPW on one issue regarding how the stormwater management standards apply to this redevelopment project,” said Cousens by way of explanation for multiple continuances.

Approximately 67% of the Funland site is located within a 100-year floodplain. MassDEP has pushed back on Tree House’s plan to count a stormwater basin as both a compensatory flood storage area and an area where stormwater from other portions of the site will be directed. The remedy, cutting the number of spaces from 138 to 60 spaces, is not seen as financially feasible given the $2.1 million price tag for the 2.3 acre property.

Cousens said her team had a productive meeting with town staff and is now waiting for a response from the DPW and a ruling from the Conservation Commission. While most board members were content to wait to hear those outcomes, Vice-Chair Vinny Fratalia voiced concerns over where overflow parking is happening now.

“I went down three times to review the site, and there was not one spot to park in,” said Fratalia, calling the number of spaces inadequate for the occupancy and questioning whether there is overcrowding in the building and customers taking spots in neighboring lots. 

“If you’re parking on other people’s property, what’s that doing to other people’s businesses?” he said. He reminded Cousens of concerns expressed by residents and the board over the feasibility and safety of people crossing Rt. 38 and reiterated the idea of Tree House running a shuttle from a satellite parking location.

Hanley said the company is “really trying to work this through” parking issues and intends for the overflow lot to alleviate the problems mentioned. They are working with a traffic consultant and MassDOT to ensure the crossing is as safe as possible.

The hearing was continued to Oct. 30.

Hanley stayed on for an update on 1438 Main St. A plan by the owner of Tewksbury Dental Associates, originally presented in August, to carve out parallel parking spots on Sarina Way met with significant opposition from a well-organized group of abutters. They returned armed with an engineering consultant and a discrepancy in the number of dental treatment rooms used to justify the need for the extra spaces versus plans on file with the town.

“The memo says that there are 15 operatories, and 15 patients are going to be there at all given times,” said Sarina Way spokesperson Arafat Khan. “The floor plan clearly shows that there are only 10 operatories, and not 15. So I don’t know if it was a mistake, or if it’s a misrepresentation of facts.”

Hanley was unable to speak to that but said the plans have been modified to address concerns. There’s a reduction in the number of parallel spaces from 14 to 12 and removal of a retaining wall. Thirty mature trees will be removed, and new arborvitae planted on the lot line. The attorney for the project, Don Borenstein of Johnson & Borenstein, has had discussions with the HOA regarding resident concerns.

Member Jonathan Ciampa pointed out that the positioning of the spaces necessitates either parking facing the wrong way or possibly using the residential neighborhood to turn around. 

Hanley said the spaces will be assigned to employees, with enforcement left to the owner.

Bob Puff, a consulting civil engineer, appeared on behalf of the Sarina Way residents.

“The residents had a certain expectation when buying their properties,” Puff said. “There’s a reasonable expectation with respect to the nature of the driveway, how it will feel, how it will feel to walk along the sidewalk and the general amenity of the green space and the landscaping.”

While limiting the spaces to employees is a “minor improvement,” he pointed out that the arrival of employees may coincide with peak time for residents coming and going and that enforcement by owners can be spotty. He also called a proposed curb cut on the northeast corner problematic, citing safety concerns with the sharp angle. Two additional curb cuts reduce the available sidewalk and pose a danger to pedestrians, including children walking to meet school buses, said speakers. 

Resident Frank Correnti of 85 Sarina Way characterized encroaching on the roadway easement as “an accident waiting to happen.”

Danny Kim of 1428 Main St., the property bordering the road and affected by the tree removal, called out on behalf of his father not only the loss of privacy, but noise and litter increases. Their observation of the lot at what the proponent characterized as “peak hours” on Tuesdays and Thursdays consistently found 11 to 14 vacant spaces.

“The existing parking is far from inadequate,” said Kim.

Board members were receptive to resident concerns, with Chair Stephen Johnson asking Lowder to clarify the dental practice floor plans. 

“If the actual floor plans submitted aren’t accurate, that’s going to be a little irritating,” said Johnson. 

He asked for full details on snow removal, including on the weekends. Other board members also want to see documentation on the number of operatories in the dental office, further justification of the need for 12 additional spaces and clarification on drainage and snow removal.

“It’s a legitimate concern, especially after the summer — they want to know where the water is going to go,” said member Jim Duffy. “It seems like there are bigger problems that need to be worked out.”

Fratalia didn’t mince words: “I’m a no,” he said.

Michael Columba appeared for the Brelundi Italian food outlet at 836 and 846 Main St., the former Mirabella’s. There are some matters outstanding with engineering, but the plans are close to approval. 

Food will be prepared on site in a second-floor kitchen area and sold on the first floor, with about 20 seats available for patrons who wish to eat in. The owner expects to have eight employees. The original Waltham Brelundi location is known for its arancini, to-go pasta sauces and cannoli. Fratalia asked about the DPW request for sidewalks. Columba indicated he’s willing to do what’s needed. 

“I own the building, I’m going to be there for a long time,” said Columba.  “It will be a beautiful property when it’s done.”

Ciampa indicated that he’d have no problem with the requested waivers. The hearing was continued to Oct. 30.

Finally, developer and Board of Health member Robert Scarano brought forward an extensive landscaping plan for a long-delayed hotel at 937 North St. The approximately three-acre lot is at the corner of International Drive and North St., across from the entrance to Raytheon.

The hotel, first proposed in 2016, was set to be a Hilton property with 132 guestrooms geared to road warriors. 

“The original permit was for a business hotel,” said Scarano, but market changes are driving a shift in focus. “We will be back in front of you related to a change in room dimensions to accommodate what the market is now bearing, which is more of a suite.” 

The project has been tied up in court. In 2017, an abutter, Marilyn McDonagh, sued, citing traffic and saying the project would devalue her property. Despite having special permits in hand, the build stalled. Then Covid hit. 

Scarano said the court has found no standing for the litigant related to traffic concerns and cleared the way to restart the build. 

“So we’re back here now,” he said. “If there are any changes, we’ll be back in front of the Planning Board, and we’ll certainly be providing any updates and plans.”

Scarano said he has two potential buyers in the wings and believes the rezoning action at Town Meeting may bring out additional interested parties. 

“There are a couple of flags [hotel brands] that are still interested in the site,” he said. “The site’s dynamic, and I think your hard work on the zoning change, in the end, the highway overlay will only lead to more prospects in that regard.”

Ed note 10/18: Per Assistant Town Manager Steve Sadwick, the 937 North St. lot was not included in the overlay approved at Town Meeting.

The next Planning Board meeting is Oct. 30.

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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