By Joan Bowen
Editor’s Note: This clarification was received from ZBA member Jeff Cohen on February 4: In the third paragraph, the article mentions the applicant’s appearance before the ZBA for a non-confirming use; however, the bank and retail or professional office uses are allowed as-of-right. The applicant appeared before the ZBA with a request to construct a non-confirming structure because the lot is undersized.
Susan Bernstein, an attorney representing the owners of the former Travelodge property (285 The Great Road), requested a special permit to build a 3600 square foot building on the property during the January 23 meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals. The proposed building will house a bank with drive-through-service and a small retail/office space.
The Travelodge was built on a 28,000 square foot lot in 1961, a time when no lot size requirements for business development existed. Today’s zoning requires an 80,000 square foot lot. Ms. Bernstein explained that although the lot is grandfathered, the owners were coming to the ZBA to request a special permit for nonconforming use.
Two years ago, the owners presented a plan to build a restaurant on the site. The Planning Board, Conservation Commission and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DOT) approved that plan. Based on the use, design and traffic studies, the new plan presents a less intensive use with lower impact on traffic on the Great Road.
John Hessian, civil engineer on the project, detailed changes incorporated into the new plan; its objective seeks to mitigate some of the traffic impact as traffic enters and exits the lot as well as circulating within the property. ZBA members explored alternatives to the traffic flow on the property with respect to the one-way routing, but in response to each query Mr. Hessian demonstrated why the current plan represented optimal use of the site given the restrictions of size and nearby wetlands.
Articulating concerns about the traffic flow within the property as well as on the Great Road, ZBA member Jeff Dearing asked why the access wasn’t from within the shopping center. He represented the opinion of several members of the ZBA that the impact to the traffic flow on the Great Road would be less if the traffic light already in place on the Great Road were used. The initial response was that current lessors within the Shopping Center would not agree to changes in their leases. When asked why the leases couldn’t be renegotiated, Jerry Drucker, one of the owners, responded that direct access from the Shopping Center would be at the narrowest part of the parking lot and into an area where there is heavy truck traffic. This would not be a good solution based on safety concerns.
Questions than focused on the proposed changes to the Great Road designed to ease the flow of entry and exit from the property. Because the Great Road is a state road, Mass DOT has authority over traffic flow. Earlier Mass DOT approved a plan based on the traffic generated by the earlier plan to build a restaurant. It was stated that the owners will return to Mass DOT given lower traffic intensity for the new use. The expectation is that the original plan will remain the same except for simplification of the turning lane to a single way turn. Members of the ZBA questioned that the predicted lower volume warranted this change.
Margot Fleischman, speaking for the Selectmen and on behalf of the Bicycle Advisory Committee, stated the continuing traffic concerns of the Selectmen and asked for confirmation that bicycle lanes are included as part of the Great Road changes. She was assured that bicycle lanes are included. She also asked if there will be bicycle racks on the site and was told that there would be. Ms. Fleischman stated that the Selectmen have taken no position but remain concerned about the complexity of the traffic pattern.
The motion was made to approve the application for the special permit with two conditions. First, that the owners implement the Great Road traffic plan previously approved by the Mass DOT based on the restaurant use with a two way turning lane. Additionally, that the owners agree to install pavement markings at the entrance to aid drivers in determining travel lanes and flow direction. The owners indicated acceptance of the two conditions. The motion was approved (4-1). The special permit will be issued following the standard twenty-day comment period.
To read The Citizen’s article about the Selectmen’s discussion of the ZBA’s vote: https://www.thebedfordcitizen.org/2014/01/29/selectmen-consider-development-plan-for-the-former-travelodge-site/