Holyoke Planning Board sued over Dunkin’ denial on Mount Tom  

  • Lori Tisdell leads a group with the Pioneer Valley Hiking Club out of the parking lot owned by the Log Cabin to trails across the street, on the Holyoke-Easthampton line. The property is where a Dunkin’ Donuts had been proposed. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • 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 of Wilbraham, show how cars would queue up at the building’s drive-thru if it were approved. HOLYOKE PLANNING DEPARTMENT

Staff Writer
Published: 9/20/2021 7:34:52 PM

HOLYOKE — Two local companies have sued the city’s Planning Board over its decision to deny them the ability to build a drive-thru Dunkin’ Donuts on Mount Tom.

In a lawsuit filed Aug. 31 in state Land Court, Salmar Realty of Ludlow, along with The Log Cabin and Banquet House, sued the city’s five-member Planning Board. The lawsuit comes after the Planning Board — after 10 public hearings on the proposed project on the Log Cabin’s property at 500 Easthampton Road — rejected the proposed drive-thru largely over traffic concerns.

The lawsuit says that the “key issue” in the case is whether two Planning Board members, Vice Chairwoman Mimi Panitch and Rosanna Lopez, “were either arbitrary/capricious or exceeded the legal authority of the Board.” Although three members of the Planning Board voted in favor of the project’s site plan review, the project failed to reach the four-vote threshold needed for approval.

“In that regard, plaintiffs respectfully submit that the attached Planning Board decision makes inaccurate statements, omits significant facts, sets forth statements taken out of context, and is not consistent with the evidence presented to the Planning Board during the Public Hearing sessions,” the lawsuit states.

Efforts to reach city planning officials were unsuccessful Monday.

This is the second time in recent years that a developer has sued Holyoke’s Planning Board over its denial during the site plan review process.

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 it was approved in August 2020.

The proposed drive-thru and dine-in facility at 500 Easthampton Road, also known as Route 141, would have contained a Dunkin’ Donuts and a Delaney’s Market takeout deli. Salmar would have leased the land from the Log Cabin and constructed a new building where the former Mt. Joe to Go coffee drive-thru is located.

But throughout the process, city officials have raised questions about the project’s impact on traffic and safety at the site. City councilors raised those concerns and others during their discussions before approving a special permit for the project in March. The City Council ultimately voted unanimously in favor of the permit.

“For me this is really a good petitioner, a good friend to the city, and it’s something that if we can pass and it helps them to stay where they are, that’s what we’re here for,” City Council President Todd McGee said at the time. “We’re here to make sure business stays in Holyoke.”

Salmar and the Log Cabin note in their lawsuit that the City Council approved their special permit and that after the Planning Board’s hearings they had agreed to a one-year “look-back” study in which an independent firm would assess traffic at the site.

In its official notice of decision to Salmar Realty, the Planning Board notes the applicant’s mitigation efforts that attempted to address those concerns about traffic and safety, including the addition of a left-turn lane onto the property for northbound drivers after the Planning Board consulted an independent traffic engineer about the safety and effectiveness of the project’s design. However, those efforts were not adequate to protect public safety or ensure reasonable traffic flow, the Planning Board said.

The board said the city engineer advised them that any final conclusions about the safety of the site plan should rely on an assessment of user behavior, which is the unique responsibility of the Planning Board and beyond the purview of professionals advising the board on the technical aspects of the project.

“We find that common sense and our ordinance, which emphasizes public safety, require that we make decisions for the world as it is, and not for the world as we might wish it to be, and to evaluate the information before us in light of what we know about user behavior in the real world,” the decision reads.

Salmar and the Log Cabin took issue with that decision, which called the plan “unreasonable and dangerous” based on that evaluation.

In their lawsuit, which was brought by Northampton lawyer Michael Pill, the companies allege that Panitch and Lopez made their decisions to vote against the site plan “based on philosophical or gut level traffic concerns.” They suggest that at the end of the public hearings before the Planning Board, there was “apparent agreement” between their traffic engineering consultant, the independent consultant, and the city engineer “that traffic issues had been resolved.”

“The votes of the two Planning Board members who voted against plaintiffs’ applications lacked any basis in fact or law — the essence of an arbitrary/capricious decision,” the lawsuit says. “The explanations and reasons set forth in the defendant Planning Board’s decision are not consistent with the evidence presented to the Planning Board during the Public Hearing sessions.”

The two sides are scheduled for a conference in Land Court on Sept. 28.

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


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