AP NEWS

Town Meeting OKs Route 129 Drive-thrus

May 3, 2019

CHELMSFORD -- Town Meeting on Thursday approved a zoning change to allow drive-thru windows by special permit in parts of the Route 129 Business Amenity Overlay District.

The article, as amended to restrict the number of drive-thrus allowed, passed 105-23 after more than an hour of debate.

The zoning change applies to upscale fast casual restaurants -- described as a bridge between traditional fast food and casual dining -- that would be located on portions of Billerica and Mill roads that are part of the overlay.

Community Development Director Evan Belansky said the zoning proposal was spurred by a project proponent interested in investing $10 million in 330 Billerica Road. That property is owned by SIR Properties Trust.

As town officials keep meeting with Route 129 corridor stakeholders, Belansky said they find many are continuing to leave because of the lack of amenities for employees. He said the zoning changes approved 2 1/2 years ago were only “a starting point.”

“The 129 area is literally and figuratively at a crossroads,” Belansky said. “It’s fighting for its economic relevancy.”

Director of Business Development Lisa Marrone said the corridor has a 16 percent vacancy rate, including five whole empty buildings, and more will be vacated as Analog Devices and Cadence Design Systems are planning to leave for other locations as well.

Some precinct representatives expressed their support for the proposal, signifying it would be the next step needed to spur further development in the business corridor.

Many, however, expressed fears about a proliferation of drive-thrus that would significantly increase traffic. Others were concerned that the zoning change as proposed would give the Planning Board too much latitude to remove requirements in order to approve projects.

Precinct 4 Rep. Sheila Pichette put forward the amendment to limit the Planning Board to approving only three special permits for drive-thrus in the area. Planning Board Chairman Glenn Kohl accepted the proposal as a friendly amendment, so it did not require a separate vote to be included.

Another amendment to strike a provision allowing the Planning Board flexibility to waive some requirements where it determines the project will be consistent with the purpose and intent of the bylaw, put forward by Precinct 4 Rep. Chris Lavallee, was defeated 39-83, with one abstention.

Among other items approved for the fiscal 2020 budget:

n Transfer $998,449 in stormwater fee revenues to the Stormwater Management Enterprise Fund and borrow $550,000 for capital equipment including a street sweeper, excavator/trailer and six-wheel dump truck.

n Increase the senior citizen property tax work-off program from $100,000 to $150,000.

n Replenish annual funding for the Community Preservation Committee, its recreational and open space capital improvement funds and pay its debt service;

n Use $95,000 in Community Preservation Funds to reconstruct the Varney Playground tennis courts into one tennis court and one pickleball court.

n Accept Alyssa Way, Fay Street, Galloway Road, Hall Road and Mission Road as public ways.

In a one-article Special Town Meeting, the body also authorized the Board of Assessors and Board of Selectmen to enter a 20-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement with 100 Wotton Solar SOCAP LLC for a 720-kilowatt ground-mounted solar voltaic facility at 100 Wotton St.

On the first night of Town Meeting on Monday, the body also approved the fiscal 2020 $68.9 million general town government operating budget and $3.4 million capital budget.

Follow Alana Melanson at facebook.com/alana.lowellsun or on Twitter @alanamelanson.