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.