Holyoke planners hear more about Dunkin’ on Mount Tom

  • Plans for a proposed Dunkin' Donuts drive-thru and dine-in facility at 500 Easthampton Rd. in Holyoke, put forward by Salmar Realty’s Peter Martins, show how cars will queue up at the building's drive-thru if it is approved. Dusty Christensen—HOLYOKE PLANNING DEPARTMENT

  • Holyoke City Hall as seen from Lyman Street. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/24/2022 11:11:02 PM

HOLYOKE — Those tuning into a meeting of Holyoke’s Planning Board earlier this month might have noticed a familiar topic: a proposed Dunkin’ Donuts on Mount Tom.

In August, the city’s Planning Board rejected the proposed drive-thru facility at 500 Easthampton Road, also known as Route 141. But The Log Cabin and Banquet House, where the drive-thru would be located, and Salmar Realty, a Ludlow company that operates some 50 Dunkin’ locations in the region, sued the Planning Board in September over that decision.

On Jan. 13, as part of that litigation, the project applicants were back to discuss their proposal before the Planning Board, where they had been for nine public hearings prior.

Opening the meeting, Chairman John Kelley explained that litigation was still pending on the matter.

“The plaintiff and the Planning Board agreed to hold this public meeting and listen to any further information that the plaintiffs want to present to the board,” Kelley said.

The discussions, the applicants’ lawyer said, were part of “settlement talks” as the case continues to make its way through court.

“If something is part of settlement discussions, you can’t use it against the other side,” Michael Pill, the attorney representing Salmar and the Log Cabin, explained by phone Monday. “There is no settlement at this time … My understanding is that the Planning Board and its attorneys will be having their own discussions further and in the meantime we’re moving forward with the litigation.”

No changes proposed

The proposed Dunkin’ Donuts has generated controversy in the city, where some spoke out against what they said would be increased traffic, trash and danger to pedestrians and hikers in a beloved part of the city.

The Jan. 13 Planning Board meeting was the first public meeting between the two parties since the businesses sued in the fall.

For the businesses, it was a chance to present their case again to the board. Peter Rosskothen, the owner of the Log Cabin, struck a tone of optimism when addressing the five Planning Board members.

“I love Holyoke … It really hurts me to be in this situation where we are filing an appeal on a decision made in Holyoke,” Rosskothen said. “I’m really hoping today is the beginning of getting out of it.”

The project, however, was the same one that Planning Board members rejected: a new building at the site of the former Mt. Joe to Go coffee drive-thru that would house a Dunkin’ Donuts and a Delaney’s Market takeout deli; a queue that can fit up to 12 cars; the addition of a left-turn lane onto the property for northbound drivers; and the promise of a 12-month “lookback” study in which an independent firm would assess traffic at the site.

When Planning Board members rejected the project initially, two of the five members voted against the proposal, which needed four votes to pass. Chief among their concerns were traffic and public safety. The members who voted against the project, Mimi Panitch and Rosanna Lopez, wrote in the board’s decision that the applicant’s mitigation efforts did not adequately protect public safety or ensure reasonable traffic flow.

Part of the efforts Salmar and the Log Cabin made on Jan. 13 were to address those concerns. Jeff Bandini, a project manager for the transportation engineering firm Mcmahon Associates, said that the applicants analyzed the “stacking” of cars at three other similar Dunkin’ locations — one in Holyoke and two in Westfield — and found that the queues did not back up into the street.

Planning Board member Kate Kruckemeyer, however, noted that she lives near the Pleasant Street Dunkin’ in question, and that she has witnessed traffic backed up into the street before. That “wouldn’t be acceptable at all” at the Mount Tom location, given the concerns about traffic there, she said.

For Planning Board members, the meeting was an opportunity to ask follow-up questions about what additional steps the applicants might be willing to take. Kruckemeyer, for example, asked what other concessions the businesses might be willing to make in order to make the it easier for Planning Board members to approve the project.

The applicants noted that they were willing to “be creative,” noting that they were still open to the addition of a right-turn lane as well, if it was deemed necessary after the fact.

Ultimately, though, Salmar owner Peter Martins, while stating his openness to a reviewer analyzing the site several times within the first year, made clear his comfort with the project’s current design.

Martins said that over the three years this project has been in the works, his company has spent good money overcoming obstacles the city put in the way. And he said that the lookback study represented a “backup plan” in case there were any problems, which he said he does not expect. He said he’s open to the traffic being studied before one year, because traffic problems would ultimately hurt his business, too.

“I’m happy to do that because for me that’s good for my guests, and for you it gives you that level of comfort,” he said. “Let’s talk about it once we open, let’s keep an eye on it and let’s talk about it.”

But the traffic concerns also remained for some Planning Board members. Lopez said she doesn’t believe there wouldn’t be stacking of cars, and that looking at the project’s design again reinforced her previous feelings about the project.

“I cringed when I saw this picture because I have some serious safety concerns,” Lopez said.

The lawsuit against the Planning Board, which is approaching the end of discovery before heading to a trial, is not the first in recent years.

In January 2020, Springfield development company the Colvest Group sued after the Planning Board denied its site plan for a project to demolish the vacant John J. Lynch School building and build a shopping center there. The project was subsequently remanded back to the Planning Board, where, after some turnover of members, it was approved in August 2020.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.

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