Saturday, December 17, 2011

Should Cumberland Farms Be Allowed to Expand/Rebuild & Add Gas Pumps?

A blog reader alerted me to the ZBA hearing on the Cumberland Farms special permit request, which took place yesterday and was continued to February 2. I did not intend to sit through another three-hour meeting but ended up doing just that in order to share my impressions here. “Cumby’s” plans to raze the existing building on Route 6, as well as the abandoned house behind the convenience/package store. A new larger building, requiring 42 parking spaces, would rise at the back of the lot. Three gas pumps would be installed at the front. There are two major questions I would like to explore, and I would be delighted to have your opinions. 1.) Is this expansion appropriate to the character of town, given the fact that Wellfleet voted at Town Meeting against “formula” businesses? 2.) Does the ZBA serve the interests of the town, or is the board’s goal to facilitate special permit requests?

The lawyer representing Cumby’s said, “We believe the benefits far surpass …” blah, blah, blah. He talked fast and had his back to the audience, so it was impossible to hear all his points. Here’s a quick summary of what I was able to get of what he saw as benefits:

1.) improved store design for people with disabilities;
2.) one-stop availability: convenience/liquor, gas;
3.) elimination of the potential hazard if heading north and need to cross Route 6 to reach the Mobil station;
4.) promise to resolve the drainage problem;
5.) connection to municipal water system on Cahoon Hollow, financed by Cumby's.

There were not as many Wellfleetians present as for the Dunkin’ Donuts hearing last week, but still over a dozen people did show up, most of them abutters. Letters from absent abutters were also read. One letter mentioned the fuel tanks that would be below ground, close by a wet land. Everyone took issue with lighting and screening. Some dared to speak against the granting of the special permit.

Personally, I am concerned with safety issues for anyone with children in the “parking area” as no sidewalks are planned. The scene at Cumby’s and the package store is crazy enough, in summer, without the added complication of gas pumps. I question the need for a third (fourth, if Irving returns) filling station, and worry about an increase in turns back onto Route 6 in summer, as north-bound traffic will choose Cumby’s for gas.

Cape Cod Times columnist Brent Harold challenged the project as a whole and said he hoped the board would ask itself whether this proposal should be considered under the new bylaw and “what are the real benefits for this town.” He reminded ZBA members, “You represent the town. Most people will not want formula businesses. More left-hand turns is not a benefit.”

David Sullivan stated he felt the discussion should not be about the type of trees or the number of parking spots but rather about town character. “Wellfleet’s going down a slippery slope. This town is based on tourists. They come here because we are NOT like their hometown. This will affect the mindset of people and how they view Wellfleet. I don’t know if people understand the ramifications. Bay Sails will want to become a Home Depot.” On the other side, a CVS would move in, etc. …

His arguments reminded me of statements made last week by audience members, after the reading of a letter from the only person in favor of the Dunkin’ donuts proposal, the building inspector, who hailed the proposed drive-thru as an “attractive gateway” to our town.

Morrill summarized, “We don’t want this kind of thing in Wellfleet …The adverse conditions outweigh the benefits.”

Traffic issues were not really addressed with the study done on Oct. 19, 2010. Audience member Steve Curley feels a viable traffic study should be conducted in summer. “You can’t project numbers based on October. MA highway should take part,” he told me later over the phone. “The ZBA did the same for PB Bistro. Look at the mess the traffic is now down there. They were supposed to do a traffic study in 2010. I asked a member of the board about it, and he said, ‘Guess we forgot.’”

I’m not going to get into technicalities of the application and whether the change of business request and the expansion request can/should be grouped or not. I know volunteer boards work hard and devote countless hours of private time to the consideration of town-related business. What I question is the chair’s statement that the board would “try to make the decision as fast as we can,” in what seemed almost a bend-over-backwards attempt to please the petitioner and his lawyer. As I sat there listening and thought back to the Dunkin’ Donuts hearing a week ago, it dawned on me that the ZBA hesitates to refuse these special permits. Are they afraid of lawsuits? Why green-light everything, especially if there is a sound legal basis to refuse?

What do you think? Are you in favor of Cumberland Farms’ plan for expansion and addition of a gas station? Do you think the benefits will outweigh the adverse effects, or visa versa?