Renewed Proposal For Dunkin Donuts At St. Mary's Site
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A crowd packed the tiny Meeting Room 203, but little was said during the latest installment of an ongoing saga between Cafua Management, the city of Pittsfield, and residents opposed to a plan to develop the former St. Mary the Morningstar campus into a drive-through doughnut shop.
The city's Zoning Board of Appeals opened up a public hearing on Wednesday on a zone extension that would be necessary to Cafua's reformulated plan for the proposed eatery, and will continue that public hearing to at least July to allow more time for questions to be answered.
James Scalise of SK Design said his client is seeking a zoning change that would grant a special extension of the commercial (B-G) zone farther into the adjacent residential (R-M) zone on Plunkett Street, in order to route the establishment's driveway through a portion of the residential side street.
"The only part of the proposed use that requires a special permit at all is the drive-through," clarified Scalise. "The restaurant itself is allowed by-right in the B-G zone, but the drive-through lane crosses the zone line."
The plan is the third overall proposal for this site by Cafua Management, which first incurred some community backlash in September 2014 with its proposal to raze the St Mary's Sanctuary and supporting buildings for the development, which would have placed the entire operation within the B-G zone. It withdrew this proposal in response, with an informal suggestion of potentially donating the church itself to the city. A subsequent application in August 2015 called for a subdivision of the property that would preserve the church building, while razing a combination of brick rectory and convent buildings built in the 1950s and '60s respectively.
When Cafua failed to provide the required research fees for its application by this March, the application was withdrawn, and re-submitted in April with the requested funds for third-party research into the impacts of the proposal.
The new application is essentially identical in narrative and site plan specifications, calling for a 2,100-square-foot Dunkin' Donuts hub with a drive-through on the western side of the building, with traffic accessing from Tyler Street and Plunkett Street. The 0.8-acre parcel would have about 185 feet of frontage on Tyler Street, and another 190 feet on Plunkett Street. The design calls for "new paved parking areas, outdoor seating, pedestrian walkways, landscaping," and will offer 29 parking spaces, almost twice that necessary for the capacity by city zoning requirements. The drive-through service area has also been designed to include twice as many queuing spaces as demanded by local ordinance, planning for a total of 12.
The results of the third-party research, conducted primarily by the firm John Mullin Associates, were not positive toward the development, however, indicating that the plan may not meet the criteria for an appeal under Pittsfield's zoning ordinance because of its projected neighborhood impact and inconsistency with the city Master Plan.
Mullin found that proposed use would be "detrimental to the neighborhood," citing "impacts to the existing retail pattern, which accommodates pedestrian use surrounding residential neighborhood, as well as the intensity of the proposed use, and the impact of altering a highly visible landmark in the landscape of the neighborhood."
On another criteria of the zoning appeal, Mullin found that the "use is not consistent with specific goals of the Master Plan" for that neighborhood "supporting walkable neighborhood centers, sustainable redevelopment practices, and revitalization of a historic urban neighborhood."
The consultant also found that the high volume of traffic could decrease pedestrian safety through the introduction of two new curb cuts in a block that has never had them.
The use could potentially also have excessive impact on city storm-water capacity because of the drastic alteration of the landscape, and another third-party reviewer, Trinity Engineering Technical Services, has requested additional information on storm-water drainage from the applicant.
Scalise said the research provided was still new to him, including the Mullins report that he'd only received at 3:59 p.m. that day, prompting the board to leave the public hearing on the application open, to give him a chance to respond at its July 20 meeting.
"I don't think engineering issues are really the pitfall with this particular development," Scalise stated. "I think the other findings, particularly related to character of the neighborhood, and consistency with the master plan, are probably the components that this project needs to revisit."
Other speakers on the proposal deferred to next month as well. From among a dozen members of the public who attended the hearing Wednesday, only Michael Ward spoke, calling the zoning alteration "a very troubling idea."
"This is a high-impact use," said Ward, urging the board not to extend the commercial zone to accommodate the drive-through project.
The former Ward 4 city councilor said the city must learn from its own experiences with Dunkin' Donuts drive-throughs, and "look at what works and what doesn't," comparing the proposed Tyler Street site with the current locations on Dalton Avenue and First Street, about which he heard many complaints about as a councilor, in contrast with a sister site on South Street near the Pittsfield/Lenox line.
"We have our own data, including our historical experience as a city with Dunkin' Donuts," said Ward. "It's not a good idea, it's not a good location for a drive-through."
The ZBA will reopen the public hearing to the applicant and any other parties who wish to speak for or against the zoning exception on Wednesday, July 20.
Tags: church reuse, drive-through, Dunkin Donuts, ZBA,