By Kim Siebert MacPhail
At the April 16 Planning Board meeting, Ken Larson—owner of the property at the corner of South Road and Railroad Avenue that houses The Bikeway Source—informally presented plans for a café to occupy the rear portion of that building, which is now used for storage. Custom builder Bill Waite, who is currently rehabilitating the structure, joined Larson for the presentation.
“I’m really excited about talking to you about this,” Larson told the Planning Board. “The first half of the building [where the Bikeway Source is] will be allocated to expanded retail for the bike shop. The second half of this is the area we’re talking about to be able to develop as a café or a coffee shop or a bakery.
“I’ve been talking about doing something like this for 20 years,” Larson continued. We’ve been talking about it seriously for 15 years and finally Bill [Waite] said ‘You know, I’m going to fix that building now. We’ve got the right people who know how to do this kind of work.’ So we’re doing it. . . . I believe it can be a public space.”
Larson himself does not intend to run the café, but plans to refurbish the space so that someone else can operate a food business on the site. “I’m not starting a restaurant. The space is 1250 or 1200 square feet. We’ve set up for it to be able to be a restaurant with appropriate bathrooms. If [no one leases it], it’s storage,” he said.
To comply with the Depot Park Overlay District specifications, Larson added, a corral-style bike rack would occupy at least six of the parking spaces on the south side of the building. Planters and outside seating near the corral as well as in the grassy area on the South Road side are included in the plan.
“We’ve been [discussing] what we need to do on-site to make it acceptable under the Depot Park Overlay District [guidelines]. It [says] that in order to put in things like retail or a café, we need to provide bike racks and seating amenities for people to sit outside, and we have done that. . . . We want to make this a place for people to congregate,” Larson said.
Larson added that the plan to put the bike corral and seating on the south wall of the building changes the perspective of which side is considered to be the front of the building. “The development of the [parking lot side] to become more like the front of the building rather than [the] Railroad Avenue [side means that] we’re virtually changing the focus of the building. Railroad Avenue is a raceway; you’re not going to get people to sit out on that side of the building. . . . I’m trying to flip around the front of the building,” Larson explained, saying that the possible bikeway extension along the Elm Brook conservation land path is, at least in part, the reason for the reorientation.
“In ten years, I may end up breaking even on this,” Larson concluded. “I’m not going to retire on the great bucks I make. I’m making a space in my own town and that’s why I’m taking a gamble on having the café toward the back, bringing the people from the bike path down that way, and the cars will follow. That’s the deal,” Larson said.
The Planning Board was generally favorable to Larson’s proposal, asking questions about shade trees and other enhancements that would tie the building architecturally into the depot theme of the area.
Pulling together the district, Larson said, was on his mind as he thought about the project; he plans to go before the Selectmen next to discuss his ideas.
“This stuff can happen [in the district], but it won’t happen unless somebody builds something and gets it started. . . . I’m going to do my part, but I do hope that the Town pulls the trigger. Let’s make this thing go the way that promotes bicycling, pedestrian [use] and all the stuff that is the philosophy behind the [Depot Park] Overlay District. If you want that philosophy to fly, you’ve got to step up and do it,” Larson concluded.