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Attorney Thomas Reidy and other members of Cumberland Farms' development team answer questions at Wednesday's community meeting at Adams Town Hall.

Cumberland Farms Faces Questioning at Community Meeting

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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The gas station and convenience store would replace a closed service station and several other buildings on three parcels on Commercial Street. 
ADAMS, Mass. – Cumberland Farms faced a contentious crowd last week during a set of community meetings at Town Hall.
The discussions that started at 5:30 went well past the 7 p.m. mark as company representatives were peppered with questions about traffic and the site plan. 
The community meeting held Wednesday had been promised by the company after it withdrew an application to construct a gas station/convivence store at 95 Commercial St.
"We are going to be here for the next couple of hours and we have notepads," Cumberland Farms' legal counsel Thomas Reidy told the gathering of at least several dozens. "While we may not be able to address those issues tonight we will certainly take them back to see if there are changes that can be made."
Cumberland Farms proposes to demolish Al's Service Center at 95 Commercial St. and two other structures, all owned by Carol Ostrowski, and build a gas station/convenience store just south of its older location that will be closed.
After a series of public meetings with the Zoning Board of Appeals at which residents and abutters pushed back against building the gas station in the current residential zoned area, Cumberland Farms withdrew the application and put the brakes on the project for the time being.
Wednesday's meeting started at 5:30 and ran well beyond the Selectmen's meeting that was held the same night at 7. Abutters were split into two groups: those with site concerns stayed in the Selectmen's meeting room and those who had traffic concerns broke off into the Mahogany Room.
Most of the dozens of attendees stayed in the Selectmen's room and after an overview of the project, launched questions at the Cumberland Farms team.
The group asked why that location was selected and residents urged the company to move the project somewhere else along the street.
Reidy said Cumberland Farms has looked at multiple locations, but the chosen location was the most viable.
"Cumberland Farms kicks the tires of a number of different properties in the surrounding area," he said. "It takes a few separate pieces to align for something like that to happen not only the size of the lot but its location and if the owner is willing to sell."
Charles "Chuck" Meek, program director with developer First Hartford Realty Corp., added that they have been looking at properties in Adams since 2011. They looked at the former school next to the service station and into purchasing land around the current Cumberland Farms and rebuilding, but this was not possible in the end.
Early on in the meeting, the discussion turned from questions to statements of rejection and abutter Dave Roberts said he purchased his property with the understanding that the existing service center would be the only commercial use in the residentially zoned area.
"I don't see any other gas stations in neighborhood pockets," he said. "This will be surrounded by 20 to 30 houses and it will be airlifted right in the middle of this little neighborhood where traffic is brutal already."
Luke DiStefano, a civil engineer with Bohler Engineering said he has designed 50 Cumberland Farms as well as over 100 gas stations and many of these are in residential areas. 
"I have designed hundreds of gas facilities that have been dropped in residential neighborhoods so what we try to do in those instances is we work with the neighborhood and those most impacted by the development," he said. "In my opinion, this particular use is an improvement."
There were also complaints about property values dropping and abutters having difficulties selling their homes.
Some abutters simply did not want another gas station while others welcomed the new facility and felt it could be an asset to the community – just not in their back yard.
Abutters also felt that erecting another large gas station with one on Howland Avenue near the town's northern border and another four miles away in Cheshire was a bad business move and didn't think people would use it.
DiStefano said if it wasn't financially viable Cumberland Farms wouldn't have pursued it.
"We have looked at all of this and they are very good at what they do so when they look at sites they make absolutely certain that they are pretty sure it is going to be successful before they start investing hundreds of thousands and eventually millions of dollars in a property," he said. "They certainly do their homework."
Resident Jennifer Civello was one of the lone voices in support of the gas station and said although she does not live in the neighborhood believed that new development in town was too important for Adams to pass up.
"Although this may not be my neighborhood, the entire neighborhood of Adams is. This is important to the tax base," she said. "I moved here three years ago, and my taxes have gone up a lot." 
She added that the current 36-year-old facility is not welcoming and only deters people from stopping in Adams.
"I currently go out of my way to avoid that Cumberland Farms if I could have easy access to go to another better one I would go there," she said. "We are a hub here in the North Berkshires ... and if it looks blighted and dumpy people are not going to want to come into our community … we are too small to pick and choose."
The meeting then became a little chaotic and residents turned their anger away from Cumberland Farms and on to each other. 
Reidy finally tried to regain control of the meeting and rein in the squabbling neighbors and turn the meeting back onto a more constructive path. 
"We are trying to work through it and when it gets into neighbors talking to neighbors sometimes its hard and things are lost, and we can't address your concerns," he said. "We want to hear specific concerns … give us the opportunity."
He did have tax projections and said the properties under consideration are assessed at $389,000. This means near $9,000 in taxes annually.
By comparison, a newer Cumberland Farms in North Adams is assessed at $1.189 million and a similar facility in Adams would mean nearly $30,000 in taxes annually.
Residents then aired their traffic concerns and felt a gas station could be dangerous in the neighborhood especially with a bus stop so close by. 
DiStefano begged to differ and said the new facility will have better sight lines and would be safer.
"This is what you have there today this is what the kids walk by – a lot of congestion right at the street level. This does not allow for sight lines anywhere," he said. "You don't have great visibility and what we are trying to do is move it away from the right of way so there are better sight lines, so there is less of an issue with drivers noticing pedestrians."
He added that there would not be increased traffic.
"You are not going to see a noticeable increase in traffic along Commercial Street. This is a passer-by location and they are designed to pull traffic onto the site," he said. "You all use gas stations and I guarantee none of you take the time to drive all the way across town and pass by four or five. You are pulling traffic off of the road that is already there."
Entering and exiting the facility was the next topic and abutters felt taking a left-hand turn while leaving the facility on Commercial Street would only cause chaos.
DiStefano said people make left turns on busy streets every day and if it becomes an issue for people those folks simply won't use the gas station.
"If I came here and used the facility and I tried to get out and make a left-hand turn and If I have to wait five minutes guess what I am not going to come back or only if I can come out and take a right," he said. "These things generally tend to self-regulate. Cumberland Farms does not want to design something that is inconvenient."
Residents also took concern with the second entrance on Prospect Street. They said the narrow road is already difficult to maneuver because cars tend to park along the side making it essentially a one-lane road. 
Traffic engineer Jason Adams said they can take a look at other options.
There were also concerns about tractor-trailer traffic and Reidy said there will be room for the trucks to maneuver the facility. He said the trucks would at the most make two deliveries a week and would do this when the facility and road are not busy. He added that Cumberland Farms can store much of its product in the back of the building to decrease deliveries. 
Many left the meeting at 7 p.m., however, a few continued the conversation well into the evening. Although no second meeting was scheduled, Reidy said they will continue to communicate with the town and abutters.
DiStefano added that Cumberland Farms wants to work with the community and find a compromise.
"That is why Cumberland Farms is spending the money. They are spending to have us in a room to meet with you folks to listen to every concern we want to find a compromise," he said. "What the future holds I can't tell. I didn't bring my crystal ball but at the end of the day Cumberland Farms wants to be a good neighbor and a benefit to the community."
Resident Wayne Piaggi said that may be easier said than done.
"These aren't city people these are town people and you can come back next week, next month, or in six months and these people are not going to want it there," he said. "You can talk about which way the tractor trailers are going or where else you can put the driveway but when you come back in six months these good people just don't want it. That is the problem."


Tags: community meeting,   cumberland farms,   

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