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. 

Hotel Takes Step Closer To Town OK as ZBA Requests Technical Data

Photo: The development team for the proposed hotel in Belmont: (from left, standing) Jennifer Conley, president of Conley Associates; Robert Levy, attorney with Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott; Waltham developer Michael Columba; and Andy Rojas, architect.

For the two dozen residents who attended the Monday, March 7 meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeal anticipating a decision to approve a small hotel at the base of Belmont Hill, at least, they had to opportunity to view an impressive new art installation at the Belmont Gallery of Art where the board meetings take place.

For a second time in as many months, the ZBA voted to continue its hearing, postponing a final vote on the request by Waltham developer Michael Columba to secure five special permits to allow construction of a 19-unit “European-style boutique hotel” at the corner of Brighton Avenue and Pleasant Street at the location of the now vacant Mini-Mart convenience store.

But with public support the proposed development has received and the technical nature of the data the board is requesting, it’s beginning to appear that the first new hotel in several decades, if not a century, could be up and running in early 2017.

“I do feel good that this is a win, win with the town,” said Columba after the meeting.

“I understand the concerns of neighbors, and I take [those] personally. It is something I want to resolve,” he told the Belmontonian after the meeting. 

At the conclusion of the meeting, the board asked Columba for additional technical information on issues such as sound measurements from the HVAC system, venting, and lighting, attempting to assure themselves that assumptions being made by the development team were accurate.

Former Selectman and the project’s architect Andy Rojas reiterated the projects highlights from his presentation last month: renovating the two-building, two-story structure at 334 Pleasant St. – the old Mini Mart convenience store and offices – to open a boutique hotel consisting of 18 guest rooms, a cafe for guests, a fitness room, a business center and management offices on the 14,400 sq.-ft. site.

The building’s exterior will not be altered – with the exception on new siding – significantly in an attempt to “express Belmont’s agrarian history.”

Rojas said the hotel would have less impact on local traffic than what can operate on the site “as right” (without needing any zoning change) including a retail store, and will generate tax revenue from lodging and meals “without having an impact on the schools.”

Colomba, who purchased the property last year, said he rented rooms “to a lot of people visiting Belmont” at his first hotel, the Crescent Suite Hotel in Waltham, whether it was for a funeral, graduation parties or visiting patients in hospitals and beliefs there is a demand for European-style lodging.

He said his experience showed the hotel will be three-quarters occupied with the majority of guests registering during the day and coming back to their rooms between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. at the latest.

Jennifer Conley, president of Conley Associates, a Boston-based transportation planning, and engineering firm, said a small hotel will generate around 160 total trips in the day with a maximum of 12 trips per hour during rush hours, much lower than the 35 trips per hour a convenience store would attract.

As he did in February, ZBA Chair Eric Smith again questioned the team just how a hotel fits within the town’s bylaws. Since there is no mention of hotels in the table of uses in the zoning documents, “so the closest … is apartments which are a prohibited use in [this zoning district],” said Smith.

Robert Levy, an attorney with Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott representing Columba, said his reading of the zoning bylaw and its parking requirements – which does briefly refers to hotel use – suggests the hotel would be more akin to a daycare center or a catering business, retail and service uses that are allowable at the site with a special permit. 

For the most part, board members wanted to nail down several techical assumptions made by the developer, including just how noisy climate control systems will be running at the same time.

“Have everything written down,” requested Mariann Scali, a long-time resident.

If all goes to plan and the Board awards the special permits to Columba, work at the site will begin within weeks and will be completed in six to eight months. 

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. 

Let’s Eat: Trio of Eateries before Zoning Board of Appeals

Photo: The location where a businessman hopes to open a pizzeria on Park Avenue. 

Three restaurants will come seeking special permits before the Zoning Board of Appeals on Monday, July 13, and while two – near neighbors on Trapelo Road – appear to face perfunctory review for approval, one already has neighbors opposing its location at the intersection of Belmont Hill and Route 2. 

The ZBA meeting is taking place at 7 p.m. in the Homer Building.

George Rozopoulos, a well-known Wilmington pizzeria owner who comes from the family which established the Pizza Lover’s chain on the North Shore, is seeking to lease the former Belmont Market at 92 Park Ave. adjacent the overpass and the access road onto Route 2 and bordering Arlington, and open Rizzo’s Roast Beef & Pizza.

“Belmont is a beautiful town,” said Rozopoulos in his statement of interest, a place where “parents can walk … and kids ride bikes to grab a bite.”

“This location will be cool and hip inside and the walls will be covered with memorabilia,” said Rozopoulos, which recently was the home of Olive Market and Deli. 

Rozopoulos will serve essentially the same menu as he does at this Wilmington, Peabody and Salem locations, such as pizzas, calzones, hot and cold sandwiches, rice bowls and subs. 

The shop will have 18 seats, using the existing nine parking spaces in the area. Rozopoulos hopes to have up to 20 outdoor seasonal seating.

Yet some neighbors are rather bothered that a pizza place will be located at the edge of the residential neighborhoods. Two couples have objected to the special permit request, citing traffic – Park Avenue is rather congested for about an hour in the morning and evening rush – parking and health concerns as there is reportedly past encounters with “mice and rats” from the past businesses.

• • •

Adjacent to the newly-opened Studio Cinema, a Foxboro-based soup restaurant is seeking to occupy the former home of Cafe Burrito.

As reported in the Belmontonian this spring, owner Jose Rios wants to bring his concept of 8 to 12 daily soups as he does at his shop Spoodles Soup Factory at 374 Trapelo Rd. The restaurant, open Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., will serve fresh salads, wraps and sandwiches along with a variety of soups from the staples such as chicken noodle to the adventurous chipotle sweat potato or chicken enchilada. 

The 768 square-foot location will have 13 seats and employ five workers.

• • •

Number One Taste, the Chinese take-out at 382 Trapelo Rd., will be changing owners with Jack Sy seeking to take over the business from the current owners. He will keep the same menu and name as well as same hours; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday to Thursday; and open until midnight on Friday and Saturday. 

“This will be a family business. We want to have this business because cooking is a passion and we take pride in what we serve,” said the resident from Boston’s South End.

What’s Happening This Week: Starbucks Relocation (Part 3), Jenny the Juggler

• The big meeting this week will occur at the Zoning Board of Appeals on Wednesday, July 9 at 7 p.m. as the board hears from the representatives of the Cushing Village complex in Cushing Square that wants to relocate for just about a year the Starbucks Cafe from its current location in the heart of Cushing Square to a temporary site at the corner of Belmont Street and Trapelo Road. This marks the third time the board will hear from the developer, Chris Starr of Smith Legacy Associates, and from residents who are concerned of parking, traffic and trash. If you stay after this part of the meeting, the board will take up a petition of a Hammond Road resident who wants to install a deck with a hot tub. My word!

• For people who live on School Street, the meeting of the Belmont Historic District Commission on Tuesday, July 8 at 7 p.m. should interest you as the commission will discuss the creation of a School Street Historic District. They will discuss the housing inventory in the proposed area.

Tuesday Noon Movies at the Belmont Public Library on Tuesday, July 8 at noon will include:

  •    Pete’s a Pizza
  •    I Love You Like Crazy Cakes
  •    Three Cheers for Catherine the Great
  •    Pictures for Harold’s Room
  •    Corduroy

Explore Israel through the memories and slides of Grace Taylor, Nava Niv-Vogel, and Dena Ressler at the Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St., on Tuesday, July 8, 1:15 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. Grace will share highlights from her trip and from her visits to the Christian sites. Nava will talk about her last trip this past May, some major places of interest and how they’ve changed since the time she lived there as small child, and Dena will share images of street scenes through the eyes of a newcomer during her first trip there in 2008. Bring your curiosity!

Jenny the JugglerBoston’s only professional female juggler, will be at the Belmont Public Library on Wednesday, July 9 from 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. to amaze everyone with her killer skills. You may even leave with a balloon animal!

• Matt Heaton brings music for preschoolers which is full of kid-friendly folk and surf-inspired original songs.  Come see why he is called the Toddlerbilly Troubadour on Thursday, July 10 from 10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Belmont Public Library.

• The monthly movie at the Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St., is “Forrest Gump” which will be screened on Friday, July 11, at 1 p.m. The 1994 American epic romantic comedy, which won six Academy Awards, was directed by Robert Zemeckis and stars Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise, and Sally Field.

Residents Caffeinated Over Possible Starbucks Relocation

When William Chin, chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals, asked late in the hearing on the proposed temporary relocation of Starbucks Coffee from its current home in Cushing Square up Trapelo Street to the corner of Belmont Street if anyone wanted to speak in favor of the application, a slight laugh rose from those filling the Board of Selectmen’s Room at Town Hall on Monday, May 19.

“Don’t everyone run [to defend it],” Chin said wryly, to the now chuckles of the approximately 40 residents who came  to show their overwhelming displeasure with the anticipated migration of the popular national coffee shop across from their residential neighborhood even if it is just for a single year.

After nearly 90 minutes in which few resident questions were concretely answered, the Board of Appeals voted to adjourn the meeting until Monday, June 16  so the applicant would be able to answer or explain neighbor’s concerns including parking, deliveries and adding another eatery to the area.

“This is only the start of the process,” said Chin. “It could also end here,” he added.

The move, as development consultant Gerry Pucillo told the board, is necessary so the Cushing Village development – the three building, 186,000 square foot parking, retail and residential complex in the heart of Cushing Square – can begin construction shortly after the relocation which should take place sometime around September.

The undertaking will be a friendly transaction as Cushing Village developer Chris Starr of Smith Legacy Partners controls both sites.

“We looked at several locations and he felt this was the one that suit Starbucks need,” said Pucillo after the meeting.

The transition, which will force two small businesses (a tailors and a jewelry store) to decamp from 6 – 8 Trapelo Rd., requires the issuance of two special permits by the Zoning Board, said Chin. One is simply structural; to straighten out the concave-shaped store front window.

The other will allow for a restaurant that doesn’t require food to be cooked on the premises to take over the space, placing 30 seats into the location, the same amount at the existing store.

Chin said the issuance of a special permit for a restaurant goes to the applicant or their representatives and does not apply to the actual space.

Yet according to the application for the special permit filed at the Office of Community Development, Smith Legacy declared once Starbucks returns to Cushing Village, the “site will then continue to be used for the new use granted under the Special permit.”

While Chin said the board does not have the ability to place a “sunset” clause on the restaurant special permit that would terminate the application, they can place in the permit a clause requiring any business at the location to submit to a periodical “review” to determine if it is a “good neighbor.”

“If not, we can close them down,” said Chin.

The argument against the relocation was capsulized by Oak Avenue homeowner Rickland Powell who said the inclusion of Starbucks into the area would “cause personal and irrefutable harm” to his neighborhood since the temporary Starbucks can only supply on-street parking for both employees and customers.

Pucillo said six employees are in the store during a typical shift.

Powell said there exists “parking issues” from commuters who park on area streets so they can use the popular MBTA bus route and coming from customers of Moozy’s, the popular ice cream which would be located two doors from the temporary Starbucks.

Under the town’s bylaw, “how many [parking] spaces are actually available and can multiple businesses claim the same space within their permit?” asked Powell.

Chin said in a Limited Business 3 zone – also known as a LB-3 – where the temporary space is located, a retail operator must have one space for every 250 square feet of business space. The proposed Starbucks is expected to take up just under 800 square feet.

“So clearly they are not near the zoning requirement,” said Chin, who noted that this situation is common around “strip” stores in Belmont.

Pucillo said parking will be discussed in the coming week when he meets with Community Development Director Glenn Clancy.

Yet Jeanne Mooney of Oak Avenue noted the relocation will occur at the same time as the reconstruction of the Belmont Street/Trapelo Road Corridor at the location. That construction in itself will take out parking along Trapelo and Belmont, making side streets the preferred long-term parking sites.

Other concerns included deliveries at the store, increased trash and the addition of a dumpster and the “rushed nature” of the move.

“The developer should have known well before this that … Starbucks needed to move to a different location,” said Steve Klionsky of Payson Road.

“Now we are being faced with the fall out of that as a fait accompli,” he said.