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by Rich Hewitt
The Blue Hill Planning Board on Monday began the review process for a proposed Dunkin’ Donuts shop on South Street ruling unanimously that the application from Chuck and Belinda Lawrence was complete.
The board, however, did require additional information regarding lighting, parking and truck movement on site, sidewalks and crosswalks, and landscaping for its review of the details of the application.
Although formal public comments won’t be taken regarding the proposed project until a public hearing set for February 11, board chairman Peter d’Entremont noted that since the proposal had generated a great deal of interest he would allow some brief statements on the proposal. He added, however, that the “purpose of this review is not to judge the quality or desirability of the merchandise…but to determine how well it meets the requirements of the ordinance.”
About 20 people attended Monday’s session, including several who were there for another item on the agenda, but only one person, Bob Marville, spoke in opposition to the project.
Marville, who owns several properties on South Street, said he had sold the proposed site to the Lawrences in order to accommodate their need to install a retention pond as part of the TradeWinds Market Place development across the street. He said he admired Lawrence and added that they both care deeply about Blue Hill. But, he added, that when he sold the property, he had no idea that it would be used for additional commercial development.
“That never came into it,” Marville said. “I would not have sold him the property if I had any idea it would turn out this way.”
Marville said the plan to bring a national chain store to the town posed a danger both aesthetic and economic. He noted that several existing businesses already sell donuts arguing that they will be hurt by the appearance of the Dunkin’ Donuts.
“They’ll be eaten alive by this outfit,” he said. “This will destroy the local economy.”
Marville also argued that the development will jumpstart an influx of chain businesses to the area that could change the character of South Street which would become another strip like High Street in Ellsworth.
“The only reason I own six properties on South Street is not because I fell in love with South Street, but because I fell out of love with High Street in Ellsworth,” he said.
Marville said the town did not have strong enough ordinances to allow the board to adequately review this type of project and suggested that it needs time to review those ordinances and strengthen them. He urged them to consider pursuing a six-month moratorium on development that would allow time to review and develop a new ordinance.
“You need time, the village needs time,” he said.
The board already has begun a review of the commercial site plan review ordinance and may also re-tackle the town’s comprehensive plan. Although d’Entremont said that the board could consider pursuing a moratorium, it would not affect the proposed development by the Lawrences.
In response to a question, Code Enforcement Officer Judy Jenkins said that, by law, once an application is submitted and the fee paid, it is locked into the existing ordinance and would not be affected by a moratorium or an updated ordinance. The board did not discuss a moratorium ordinance except to note that any such measure would have to go through the selectmen and be enacted by a vote of the town.
Before the board looked at the application, Lawrence responded to Marville’s criticisms, noting that, at his TradeWinds Market, he’d already brought a national chain to the town, without harming the character of the town.
“I think I’ve managed that very well,” he said. “I’ve tried to do things right.”
Lawrence pointed out that the supermarket does not host any mall-type signs and that he regularly works with the planning board and tries to use common sense for his projects.
“This is not going to be an opening for commercial development like High Street,” he said.
The plan for a Dunkin’ Donuts in town has been in the works for 13 years, Lawrence said, ever since he first built the TradeWinds Market. At that time, he said, he planned to bring several franchises to the town, including the donut shop. Lawrence said he agreed with prior planning boards which had concerns about the location of a Dunkin’ Donuts with a drive-thru on the supermarket property and postponed those plans. But, he added that since then, customers regularly ask him about bringing the business to town.
He claimed that the majority of people in town want a Dunkin’ Donuts and that he believes he can both respond to the desires of the majority while respecting the concerns of the 20-25 percent that may be opposed to the project.
The project itself calls for a nearly 4,000-square foot building that will house the Dunkin’ Donuts shop, including a drive-thru, and two other retail spaces. Lawrence said he has talked with the owners of Sara Sara’s who are interested in the larger of the other two spaces. The development will include 19 parking spaces in front of the building and stacking space around back for up to eight vehicles waiting in line at the drive-thru.
Alina Watt, a project manager with Hedefine Engineering and Design, told the board that the site already is permitted by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection since it was included in a previous permit when the existing retention pond was designed. Watt said the permit may require minor changes to reflect the actual nature of the new development.
The board raised specific questions about the parking spots and access for delivery and emergency vehicles. Member Marcia Henderson wanted more information about the amount of traffic the Dunkin’ Donuts was expected to generate and how they had determined that 19 spaces would be sufficient. She also noted that employees would occupy some of those spots. Lawrence said that employees would park at the TradeWinds lot across the street. Henderson questioned how that could be enforced in the event Lawrence sold the new development, but the idea of employees crossing South Street raised new concerns for member Kenneth Charles.
“There’s a question of pedestrian safety,” he said. “People will be crossing South Street and that’s not something we encounter currently.”
He asked if there would be a crosswalk there.
The proposed development is located near the intersection of South Street and Tenney Hill, where the Maine Department of Transportation plans to install a roundabout. Those plans already include crosswalks. Lawrence said he anticipated the MDOT may require him to install sidewalks and a crosswalk, but he said he did not know where it might be located.
Although a traffic study for the project has been completed, the MDOT has not yet signed off on the plans. Lawrence said he will meet with MDOT and town officials on Friday. Sidewalks and crosswalks likely will be discussed then, he said.
The board also asked for more information about how larger vehicles including delivery trucks and emergency vehicles would maneuver around the site.
The board will review the application at its next meeting on February 11 at which time it also has scheduled the required public hearing on the project. Depending upon how long the hearing and review last, the board could render a decision at that time.