By Kim Siebert MacPhail
At their meetings this week, both the Selectmen and the Planning Board continued discussions about how to address traffic concerns and proposed changes toThe Great Road at the Travelodge site. The owner of the property at 285 Great Road, Great Road Shopping Center LLC, has filed plans to build a generic fast food restaurant building on the site with a drive-thru window, saying it is the only type of business to express interest in leasing the location.
Bedford’s Planning Board has approved the site plan, the only piece of the project it has authority over. The next—and final—hurdle for the project locally is to come before the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) which will rule on whether or not the project is “detrimental to the neighborhood.” If the ZBA passes the plan, the developer must also gain approval from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MADOT) because of proposed changes to The Great Road at the site.
At their Monday meeting, the Selectmen closely questioned DPW Director Rich Warrington and DPW Engineer Adrienne St. John to gain an understanding of the nature of the dialog between town staff and the developer’s team, the BSC Group. Specifically, the Selectmen wanted to know about the conversation among the various town offices concerned with addressing the project and whether the developer’s claim was accurate that “the DPW approved the plans.”
St. John and Warrington reported that there had been multiple meetings between the DPW and the Planning Office about the project, as well as at least three meetings between the development team and their office following the initial presentation of the project to the Planning Board on December 13, 2011.In addition to the meetings, copies of email communications among the BCS Group, the DPW, Code Enforcement Officer Chris Laskey, Planning Board Director Glenn Garber and Traffic Safety Officer Marc Saucier demonstrated a lengthy and detailed dialog for the several months between BCS Group’s first presentation to the Planning Board in December and the second presentation in May.
“We had a number of issues with the proposal,” said Warrington. “At first they didn’t have any changes to the road. We didn’t think it would be safe to make an exit to the left from this location, especially in light of the bad sight distance, the proximity to the bridge and the intersection. They came back with changes, we made suggestions, they came back with more.”
“The original sight distance at the existing driveway didn’t meet sightline criteria,” said St. John. Warrington added, “The road tapers at that point so a combination of the bridge abutment and the pedestrian bridge next to it interferes with the sightline looking west.” In response to that concern, the BCS Group moved the driveway further east and also agreed to keep foliage cut back, thereby allowing that part of the plan to pass muster.
After voicing concerns about turning onto and off of the Great Road, modifications were made so that a shared turning lane was added in the middle of the road for cars traveling in either direction. The lane is intended to accommodate vehicles that must wait to turn across traffic into either the current Travelodge site or Dunkin’ Donuts.
When asked by Selectmen Mark Siegenthaler if the latest iteration of the plan is acceptable, St. John responded that it is “100% better” than it was at first.
“So, from an engineering point of view, this will work from your vantage point?” asked Siegenthaler. “What do you mean ‘will work’?” asked St. John. “What they’ve done is they’ve made the modifications to The Great Road, to the curb cuts, to the alignment [of the Travelodge driveway and Dunkin Donuts driveway]. It now meets the intersection sight distance requirement.”
“It’s no worse than Papa Gino’s or Dunkin’ Donuts,” Warrington added.
Looking further into the materials provided, Selectman Margot Fleischman, formerly a member of the Planning Board, questioned the BSC Group’s traffic study numbers, saying she doesn’t find them to be “reality-based.”
“I think the important things to look at are the traffic counts and the turning motions and the projections and whether or not we find them reasonable or we think that reality is going to overtake what they propose….The bigger question beyond whether or not the DPW has done its due diligence or even whether or not the state is going to care whether this will cause a tremendous traffic tie-up, is whether we believe there’s going to be a negative impact to that part of town based on the traffic information we’ve been given. And, if we do, if we want to forward those concerns to the ZBA.”
Selectman Bill Moonan asked how Warrington and St. John would describe their reaction to the project. “They’ve addressed some of the original comments that we had,” said St. John. “We don’t approve or disapprove anything.”
The Great Road is a state road and although the Selectmen are Bedford’s Road Commissioners, they have jurisdiction only over Bedford streets, not over state thoroughfares. “I understand that the state has control over the roadway,” said Fleischman, “but ultimately it’s our police officers who are going to be responding to the accidents.”
With public safety still a matter of concern, the Selectmen delegated Fleischmanto submit a letter to the ZBA on their behalf, sending a copy to the Massachusetts DOT.
The Planning Board
At a subsequent meeting of the Planning Board on Wednesday night, discussion continued about the 285 Great Road redevelopment plan.
Board member Jeff Cohen, also a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals, reported that the ZBA will request a peer review for the project and that he is currently working with a traffic engineer at Faye, Spofford and Thorndike, providers of engineering and design services to government and municipal organizations.
Cohen listed some of the areas that the peer review will scrutinize, including traffic count authenticity, safety concerns, queuing, and ways in and out of the site that could be better served by alternative approaches than what is proposed in the current plan. He asked the other Board members to submit their concerns so that all considerations can be included in the peer review.
Like the Selectmen, the Planning Board intends to write a letter to the ZBA. Planning Director Glenn Garber told the Board that it appears as though the project will not come before the ZBA until the fall.