After Three Years, Zoning Board OKs Dunkin’ Donut at Pleasant and Brighton

Photo: Nick Leo (left) and Attorney Joseph Noone before the Zoning Board of Appeals

They will be “making the donuts” at the base of Belmont Hill as the Zoning Board of Appeals brought a three-year-long saga to an end approving a special permit allowing a well-known franchise owner to place a Dunkin’ Donuts store at the corner of Pleasant and Brighton streets.

The unanimous vote of the four members held Monday, May 14 will allow the Leo Organization to push forward on placing a franchise in a three-store strip mall at 344 Pleasant St. The Leos – son Nicholas and father Vincent – purchased a closed service station/former gas station for $1 million in 2014 with the intention to run “an excellent business” like their stores nearby in Fresh Pond and Massachusetts Avenue.

“It’s been a long road and we are very excited and we are looking forward to show that we can be a great neighbor,” said Nick Leo after the meeting.

Leo said his family’s company will “push” to have the store open by December. “It will be a challenge because we have been looking at nine to 12 months [in construction].” The store will be open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. with daily deliveries between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m.

The 25-minute meeting in front of nearly three dozen residents was the first in nearly five months as the public meeting had been continued since December 2017, as requests for additional data on traffic studies at the busy intersection requested by the board. In addition, the Leos were concerned the limited number of board members, in this case, four, who would vote on the permit would require a 4-0 decision to pass.

But in the end, the board’s verdict was almost anti-climatic after three years of at time heated debate and the initial rejection of the project by the Board in January 2016. Neighbors argued that a fast food restaurant at a congested corner just off of Route 2 would lead to increased traffic gridlock and reduced safety on the mostly residential streets. They also worried that a business known for its early hour operations would be burdensome to the tranquility of the area.

Attorney Joseph Noone, speaking for the Leo Organization, quickly reviewed the three major traffic-related issues the board sought clarification, including a peer review of the initial traffic study with a store in the location which reiterated the earlier findings which indicated a store would not have a great impact on the traffic flow in the area. The meeting was limited to the applicant as the public meeting portion had been closed months before.

While there were some issues with slight inconsistencies with some of the data, the board was soon faced with little ammunition to deny a special permit. Rather, members sought restrictions on time of operation and when deliveries could be made. Vice-chair Jim Zarkadas called the vote which went Leos’ way.

Nick Leo said he understood “that there were a lot of concerns [from the neighborhood]. We wanted to make sure they were addressed.” 

Tweaked: Failed Dunkin’ Donut Developer’s Back On Pleasant Street With New Proposal

Photo: The new design for the strip mall at Pleasant and Brighton.

The development team whose attempt to build a Dunkin’ Donut restaurant at the corner of Pleasant and Brighton streets was shot down by the Belmont Zoning Board of Appeals in January 2016 is back before the town with a new proposal for the site.

Although “new” will be seen as a stretch for some as Nick Leo’s proposed strip mall does mention a Dunkin’ Donuts restaurant as one “alternative” in occupying the larger storefront at the former Pleasant Street Getty service station located at 350 Pleasant St. which Leo bought for $1,060,000 in July 2014.

But this time, rather than building a strip mall with one of his franchise as the anchor tenant that would involve what some contend is a zoning board not favorably disposed to business interests, the development’s retail spaces will be open to anyone.

‘Once site plan approval is granted and the construction schedule is set up, Mr. Leo will then seek out possible tenants,” said Joseph Noone, the Belmont-based attorney for the Leo Organization.

Leo’s plan this time is to build the structure under the review of the Planning Board and “if a future tenant use requires a special permit under the Belmont By-Law, the tenant will apply to the ZBA for a special permit if the proposed use is not permitted as of right,” said Noone.

The new concept comes before the Planning Board on Tuesday, July 11 at 7 p.m. for a Site and Design Review a year-and-a-half after the Zoning Board of Appeals voted down the application in January 2016 due to traffic and parking issues.

Leo, the owner of 20 Dunkin’ Donut franchises in Massachusetts and Florida, is seeking to build a 3,516 sq.-ft. strip mall with three retail spaces of 1,500, 1,000  and 746 square feet with 269 square feet of common space. The site will have 21 parking spaces, seven more than is required in an LB3 zone.

In many ways, the new design is similar to the failed plan which included a 3,500 sq.-ft. building with a pair of 1,000 sq.-ft. retail operations.

While an application is prohibited for two years to return to the ZBA after being rejected, the new project is considered just enough of a change to allow it back before the town.

“In essence, the footprint of the building is not changed from the plans previously submitted,” said Noone, noting that a small second-floor storage space was eliminated.

The big difference is what’s going inside the space, said Noone. The initial design came before the ZBA as it needed a special permit to use one of the retail spaces as a Dunkin Donuts. Since the new proposal only mentions two possible uses – or alternatives – the Planning Board will only review the proposed structure.

“The denial of the special permit for the use of a Dunkin Donuts [in 2016] does not preclude seeking site plan approval for the proposed structure,’ said Noone.

Noone said the new design incorporates suggestions and requests by abutters, neighbors and the town made during the ZBA hearings, including moving the new building closer to Pleasant Street. and the placement of the dumpster, transformer, and environmental remediation equipment.

Leo also hosted an informational meeting for the neighbors on May 9 at Noone’s office, which was attended by several neighbors. 

Closed to Business: Zoning Board Nix Permits for Dunkin’ Donuts, Airbnb

Photo: Brighton Street’s Russell Mann at the ZBA meeting Jan. 11. 

Belmont’s reputation as a hard nut for businesses to crack was put in the spotlight Monday night, Jan. 11, as the Zoning Board of Appeals voted down applications for permits from two entrepreneurs.

In a pair of 3-2 votes, the board denied a special permit to the owner of 20 Dunkin’ Donut franchisees from opening his first shop in Belmont due to traffic and parking concerns.

Earlier, a request by a homeowner that would allow her to rent rooms to short-term visitors through the website Airbnb was rebuffed for allegations of safety and quality of life issues, concerns that two ZBA member dismissed as “red herrings.” 

After the Airbnb vote, a ZBA member who voted to issue the permit suggested the homeowner just skirt the town’s bylaw until the town creates new guidelines for this modern disruptive rental scheme. 

In a packed Belmont Gallery of Arts, more than 75 residents assembled to oppose many of the applications before the board in a meeting that took four hours to place a damper on 

The application that sparked the most interest came from the Leo Family which sought to build a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise in a three-store strip mall at 344 Pleasant St. The Leos – son Nicholas and father Vincent – purchased the service station/former gas station for $1 million in 2014 with the intention to run “an excellent business” like his existing stores nearby in Fresh Pond and Massachusetts Avenue, said Nicholas Leo. 

Anticipating questions about traffic to and from the site, the Leo’s traffic consultant David Giangrande, president of the transportation and civil engineering/land surveying firm Design Consultants, Inc., of Somerville, conducted a trip study analysis showing that a donut shop would generate 24 percent fewer trips than a service station over an hour during the morning rush, or about 75 customers.

But those assumptions were challenged by several members pointing out much of the data was gleaned through “industry standards” for businesses of that size, which did not take into effect traffic needing to cut across the street to enter the operation. 

Supporters of the Leo’s plan such as Timothy McCarthy of Simmons Avenue said the proposal would be “a great use” as he and his neighbors are “tired of the vacant and abandoned” service station. 

But many at the meeting opposed what they viewed as a high volume, fast food establishment that will attract vehicular traffic to an already congested intersection.

Russell Mann, an immediate abutter on Brighton Street, worried that the increase in traffic would create bigger traffic delays as vehicles heading towards Belmont Center on Pleasant Street attempted to take a left-hand turn into the strip mall that, with 21 parking spaces, is not enough for the activity the store hopes to bring in. 

“This is not a referendum on development of the property, or on the Leos … who run a good business. It’s about this special permit for use of fast food is appropriate for this location,” he said. 

Others noted that several parking spaces will be occupied by monitoring equipment as the location is under a government order to remediate the soil of dangerous levels of contaminants while some pointed to early-morning deliveries and assumptions that employees would park on neighborhood streets.

In the end, ZBA Chairman Eric Smith and Tino Lichauco who were not comfortable with the assumptions made in the traffic study and possible issues with parking which Smith felt was limiting. 

A dejected Leo, who stayed the four hours waiting for the decision, would not comment on whether he would appeal the vote nor would speculate on the future of the site. The location is zone “as right” for a retail operation such as a convenience store. 

The outcome of Anne Levy’s request to allow her to rent a room legally for less than a week in her Taylor split-level through the rental website Airbnb.

With the Planning Board deciding to push off reviewing the town’s lodging bylaws concerning this new way of boarding visitors, it was unlikely that the ZBA members would change their vote when they denied a special permit last month for an Airbnb host. (Currently, homeowner can rent a room for more than a week “as right”; yet most Airbnb rentals are for between two-to-four days.)

As with the first Airbnb case, some neighbors worried their quiet street would soon resemble a bustling tourist-lodging location with strangers in “Uber cars” coming at all hours of the night. 

While accepting member Jim Zarkadas’ no vote on the principle that the Planning Board needs to set the regulations, Lichauco and member Craig White, who along with Smith voted to approve the application, criticized the objections raised that an Airbnb rental is inherently unsafe and un-neighborly as fearmongering.

After the vote, Lichauco made the suggestion to the estimated 65 residents who rent via Airbnb: Simply make the customers sign a one-week lease and “reimburse” them for the days they don’t need the room all in the same transaction. 

“If they wish to do so, it is up to them. However, I am not going to advise them to do so,” said Ara Yogurtian, assistant director of community development. 

Despite Dunkin’s Postponed ZBA Presentation; Owner Confident He’ll Get An OK for Store

Photo: An image of how the Dunkin’ Donuts on Pleasant Street would look like.

Belmont residents will need to wait until the New Year before getting their chance to debate whether the town wants to run with a third Dunkin’ Donuts, located at the corner of Pleasant and Brighton streets.

Belmont’s Joseph Noone, the attorney for Vincent and Nicholas Leo, asked the board for a postponement on Monday, Dec. 7, due to attorney/client “issues,” resulting in a dozen or so residents who came to speak to keep their powder dry for a month.

The ZBA rescheduled the hearing for January.

While the decision was a bit unexpected, according to the property owner, Vincent Leo – who also is a well-known Dunkin’ Donuts owner/operator – isn’t fazed by the delay, confident that once residents hear from him and his family, any “concerns” to having a donut shop as a neighbor will be set aside.

“We have been in business for over 35 years, and I am one of the premier Dunkin’ Donut franchisees in the system,” said Vincent, whose family business owns and operates 19 locations in both Massachusetts and Florida.

Vincent said the Pleasant Street property has been an eyesore for decades “and we are trying to make it right.” The Getty Corporation is currently remediating the land. 

“We are going to enhance that whole corner, elevating all of the property values in the surrounding neighborhood,” he said. The family purchased the property for $1,060,000 in July 2014.

Read about the proposed plans for the site here.

Leo said that the City of Cambridge had complimented his operations “many, many times for our passion with the landscape as well as the maintenance of the property.

He reiterated that there would “never be a drive through” at the Pleasant Street location. 

Leo said he believes a Belmont store “will enhance our little micro-market” that includes shops on Mass. Ave., Alewife and Fresh Pond.


Dunkin’ Donuts franchise owner Vincent Leo (at the door, left) and his son, Nicholas, (door, right) listen to their attorney, Joe Noone, as he speaks before the Zoning Board of Appeals, Dec. 7, 2015.

“It’s just another niche we’re trying to protect and develop as an investment,” he said. 

As for issues of traffic – the intersection of Pleasant and Brighton is known as a choke point for both daily rush hours – Leo said a traffic study that he included with his application to the town, predicts no added vehicle trips due to the inclusion of a donut shop on that spot. 

While some residents have pointed to how close the site is to Route 2, Leo said his experience with his stores in Medford just off Route 93 shows that “no one gets off a highway to grab a coffee then heads back on it.” 

“It’s always a concern when they hear a brand like Dunkin’ Donuts is coming into a neighborhood. But at the end of the day, when the restaurant is in place, you’d be very surprised that it’s not a hindrance at all,” said Leo, noting there are several “as of right” businesses he could locate there that would increase traffic flow and litter. 

“With the type of building we are putting in, it will not be a barnburner regarding sales. This will be a nice neighborhood location that should be profitable and help us with the investment we made,” said Leo.

“It will be a nice place to come in for a cup of coffee,” he said. 

First Look: Will Belmont Run to a New Dunkin’ Donuts on Pleasant Street?

Photo: The Dunkin’ Donuts building on Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, that a Belmont store on Pleasant Street would look like.

Vincent and Nick Leo knows something about selling donuts. The Cambridge-based family operation runs 17 Dunkin’ Donut franchises in Massachusetts and Florida. In fact, if you go to Fresh Pond for your morning donut and coffee, it’s a Leo-run business. The DD in Alewife Station? Most of the Dunkins’ in Medford? Those are Leo’s too. And if you have a hankering for a “coffee regular” in Clearwater, Florida, say hello to someone from the Leo family who’s behind the counter.

And now, the Leos hope to expand their donut and coffee empire to Belmont.

Tonight, the Leos will be before the Zoning Board of Appeals seeking a special permit and site review of their proposed 18th franchise location at 344 Pleasant St. at the intersection of Brighton Road, a hop and a skip from Route 2 and Arlington.

The location, a hop, and a skip from Route 2 and Arlington are the former home of a gas station/repair shop that the Leos hope to build a 3,500 sq.-ft. building in which the franchise would take half the space with a pair of 1,000 sq.-ft. store fronts, creating a small strip mall.

The building, which will look like the family’s franchise at 2480 Mass Ave. in Cambridge, will have 21 indoor seats and eight outdoor. Like its Mass. Ave. store, parking for about ten vehicles will be in the rear of the building. 

The proposed hours of operation are 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

The restaurant operation will abut the intersection with the small retail operations along Pleasant. There will be a free standing “Dunkin’ Donuts” sign – approximately three feet by five feet – along Pleasant Street 

The Belmont operation will not have a drive-thru component like many of Leos operations. All food will be made off-site and delivered to the store. The store will employ between one and six employees on each shift. Trash would be collected three times during the week. 

The Leos had commissioned a traffic study by Design Consultants that said a restaurant “will not negatively impact the neighborhood by increasing traffic to the site,” as it would have “less impact traffic than the current gas station.”

How the community views the Leos coming into their neighborhood is not yet known. While there are several letters of support for the business (the Leos posted flyers on their Fresh Pond outlets asking patrons to write to Belmont officials with kind words), a town official said that several people have been calling his office for the past month to know the date of the meeting “so they can say what a bad idea this is.” 

In April 2014, the neighborhood banded together to persuaded the town to deny a retail liquor license to Waltham-based D&L Liquor to put its fourth store in the former Mini-Mart opposite Brighton Street from the proposed Dunkin’ Donuts.

Franchiser Eyes Dunkin’ Donut Store at Pleasant St. Service Station Site

Photo: The location of a new Dunkin’ Donut franchise at the corner of Brighton and Pleasant streets.

A family-run franchise business is looking to swap servicing cars with serving coffee and donuts as it has begun talks to construct a Dunkin’ Donuts store at 350 Pleasant St. on the intersection of Brighton Street.

Nicholas Leo, the business manager of his family’s Dunkin’ Donuts franchise business, said while the Cambridge-based Leo Organization is in “very preliminary talks” with the town and the property owner to build a “first-class” outlet of the coffee and bakery multinational headquartered in Canton, he said that “we could have the store open in six months.” 

Previously, the site was occupied by Pleasant Street Getty. A repair shop is currently at the location. The address is one-block from Route 2. 

If completed, the new store will be the third Dunkin’ Donut franchise in Belmont; the others are on Trapelo Road and on Church Street in Waverley Square, owned by “Duke” Carvallo.

In 2013, a small franchise owner began, but later abandoned, the process of bringing a Dunkin’ Donut store in the small strip mall at 70 Concord St.

“We are working on the design,” said Leo, which will not include a drive through. What residents can expect is “a first-class store with lots of glass, landscaping, and bring the neighborhood a property that is all cleaned up.”

The company runs 13 stores, a dozen in Massachusetts and one in Tampa, Fla. The closest Leo Organization stores to Belmont are at 199 Alewife Brook Parkway in Fresh Pond, Cambridge, and in the Alewife MBTA Station.