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Gaurang Patel proposes brick building at closed downtown Florence gas station



Thursday, February 06, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — The owner of Bird’s Store in Florence plans to convert a dormant lot at the corner of Main and Maple streets into a retail and office building, a move that many hope will breathe new life into one of the village’s most prominent sites.

Gaurang Patel, who owns the 100 Main St. site that once housed an Exxon Mobil gas station, is searching for tenants to occupy the two-story, 6,000-square-foot building.

“It would be nice to put a little life back into it (the site) and to have a business that actually works instead of a gas station,” said Patel, who runs Bird’s Store across the street at 94 Maple St.

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The brick building will hug the sidewalk and stretch along both Main and Maple streets, with most of the parking in the back and on the Main Street side. It will look similar to the Bird’s block where Patel’s business is located. Patel believes the shape of the building and the brick facade will enhance the village of Florence and be a better match with the rest of the neighborhood, which features brick commercial buildings with entrances on the sidewalk.

The Planning Board approved the project at a meeting late last month, assigning a few conditions but otherwise endorsing its concept, said Carolyn Misch, senior land use planner for the city.

“They were very complimentary of the whole concept because it really is consistent with the zoning,” Misch said. “It will bring that whole corner up to what a village center should be.”

In addition to granting a permit for a take-out restaurant in the proposed building, the board approved Patel’s requests to reduce the number of site entrances and exits from four to two and to reduce the number of required parking spaces to 33, four fewer than required by zoning. Patel also must install a pair of benches for the public to use near the exits at both Main and Maple in lieu of additional landscaping, Misch said.

The Florence Business and Civic Association, which provided feedback on the plans in advance of the Planning Board meeting, suggested Patel add storefronts and doors along the front of the building for easy street access. Patel’s plans includes doors, but not storefronts.

“It’s pretty much what we had envisioned for the center of Florence,” said Robert Ross, the association’s past president.

Ross said constructing the building next to the sidewalk with no setback will “take some getting used to.” Other businesses along Main Street are close to the street, but still have smaller setbacks with some green space in front. Ross would also like to see the parking lot screened from the street, but overall the project is palatable enough that it will probably go forward, he said.

“It will be interesting to see what goes in there,” Ross said.

Patel envisions the first floor of the building will house retail and a take-out restaurant with seating for 15 people, while the second floor space is being marketed to medical and other office tenants.

Mobil closed its doors in the fall of 2007 after Dale Morrow, who ran the station and repair shop for 36 years, decided not to buy it from the petroleum giant. It later reopened in early 2009 for gas sales only before closing again two years later.

In early 2012, the Planning Board rejected a plan for a 24-hour Cumberland Farms convenience store and gas station at the site after deciding that it was not an appropriate fit for the site.

Mobil’s canopy and gas tanks were removed from the site some time ago, and the existing station will be demolished as part of the Patel’s project.

Ward 5 City Councilor David A. Murphy, whose ward includes the site, is encouraged by the plans.

“The community feels better about it than they did about stock Cumberland Farms in the back corner,” Murphy said. “It’s local business people doing it and I hope they are successful.”

Patel said Bird’s will not leave the location it has called home for 130 years.

“Bird’s belongs on this block,” he said. “It would be devastating to move something that iconic for Florence. I just feel like it should stay here.”