South Hadley board opposes zone change petition for Route 202/33 intersection where Starbucks proposed

By JAMES PENTLAND

Staff Writer

Published: 03-21-2023 10:09 AM

SOUTH HADLEY — After hearing from numerous residents opposed to the change, the Planning Board voted 4-1 last week not to support a petition to change the zoning on what one member termed a “vexed and difficult site” at the intersection of Routes 202 and 33.

The board’s vote is a recommendation to Town Meeting, which could vote on the petition in May.

The petition was filed by Robert Bolduc of RLB Management, who is seeking to build a Starbucks and possibly two other commercial or business properties on two parcels at the vacant site, diagonally across the intersection from Plains School, and wants the zoning changed from residential to Business A.

Representing the developer, Robert Levesque sought to reassure board members that Bolduc, the former owner of the Pride gas station chain, has a letter of intent from Starbucks, and is no longer in the gas station business.

Planning Director Anne Capra said the zoning change would encompass six parcels now zoned residential, comprising 2.7 acres. She noted that the town’s master plan as well as the more recently completed Route 202/33 Corridor Study allow for some mix of commercial and residential uses in that area.

As currently zoned, though, she said, the most that could be built on the site would be a three-unit dwelling.

Board Chairman Brad Hutchison said he thought a zone change was a reasonable request.

“Business A is probably the best fit,” he said.

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But board member Nate Therien said he thought a zoning change was premature, noting that rezoning would open the door to other types of uses.

“We need to come up with new zoning plan for that area,” he said.

Board member Mike Davis said his heart sank a little when he saw the preliminary drawings Levesque presented. While town planners are trying to promote more foot and bicycle traffic, a less auto-driven community, “this is business as usual,” he said.

He also questioned the value of the proposed business.

“I’m not sure Starbucks is an anchor,” he said. “It’s in and out. I don’t think it creates any kind of synergy.”

Board member Joanna Brown and associate member Michael Adelman raised concerns about traffic and the problem of entering and exiting close to a heavily traveled intersection.

Neighbors who spoke during public comment were uniformly opposed to the change.

Lucia Foley, a resident of nearby Shadow Brook Estates, criticized the plans a “very autocentric,” with no concessions to people who are on foot.

“Starbucks would be swell, but it’s a drive-thru kiosk, essentially,” she said.

Mark Adams of Carol Ann Drive said the same request had been made in 2021, at which time the board had decided to defer judgment until the corridor study came out.

He said the drive-thru would be disruptive to neighbors, and a change to Business A zoning would allow a gas station if that’s what Bolduc chose to build.

Many raised concerns about traffic, saying the project would add to problems at what resident Kevin Taugher said a road safety audit had defined as a “high-crash cluster.”

Neighbor Martha Terry said both the master plan and the corridor study recommend a mix of commercial and residential uses in the area, and said the applicant would have many options for developing the site under low-density mixed use zoning.

Levesque said he didn’t disagree with many of the comments, but he didn’t see any alternatives.

“I believe the goal is to get it to Town Meeting,” he said. “If the zoning change is not palatable, I don’t know that we have other options.”

Depending on the board’s vote, he said, Bolduc might withdraw the petition since he would not be allowed to bring it back for two years if Town Meeting rejected it.

Before voting not to support the petition, with Hutchison alone in support, board members said they appreciated the public comments and hoped people would continue to be engaged in the work of overhauling the zoning bylaw.

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