Saturday, December 03, 2011

Summary of Wellfleet ZBA Meeting on Dunkin' Donuts Application for a Special Permit for a Drive-Thru

Summarizing a three-hour meeting of the Wellfleet Zoning Board of Appeals is not an easy task but let’s try. I know many of you are interested in the preservation of Wellfleet’s unique character, as am I, and believe a drive-thru window is not something our town needs. Can you imagine a drive-thru at this site? Me neither! Straight off, know that I have taken a position on this issue and said so Thursday night. I am against the creation of a drive-thru at the Dunkin’ Donuts Route 6 location. Opponents of the special permit also feel the potential automobile congestion would be detrimental to residents and other businesses at Cove Corner. We also worry that entering or exiting Route 6 will become more hazardous. Supporters of the special permit feel a drive-thru will enhance tourism because out-of-town visitors "expect this kind of service."

I don’t think ZBA Vice-chair Bruce Drucker realized what a tough assignment lay before him. Indeed, a number of members of the audience were shocked by his lack of respect for the Wellfleetians who had come to voice opinions ...

The Council on Aging rapidly filled with dozens of opponents to the DD application. Drucker explained that, according to the law and a detail on date of submission of an ANR with the Planning Board, the ZBA needed to apply the old bylaw, not the new one voted at a recent Town Meeting to prevent fast food restaurants in Wellfleet.

Ben Zehnder presented the case for his client, George Zografos of Sandwich. Zografos owns twelve Dunkin’ Donuts. Two benefits to the town would be facilitating life, in winter, for coffee-drinkers with toddlers in the car and elderly coffee-drinkers. (These are the only two I retained as possible valid arguments.)

Drucker read letters of opposition, and one letter of support from the building inspector, mentioned on my earlier post, where you can also find the site plan.

Dan Silverman and wife Janice Gray wrote the most eloquent letter. As an abutter, he explained that the arrival of DD has been “a mixed blessing to the neighborhood.” The issues were traffic, wind-blown litter, noise outside regular hours, a spotlight, “garish urban-style lighting,” a drainage problem. He raised concerns regarding increased exhaust, outside speakers, additional lights. Dan pointed out that a drive-thru represents “a major change in use of property,” reminded the ZBA board “the rural character of our town is the engine that drives our economy,” and stated that the request for drive-thru service “flies in the face of the will of the town, expressed at the last Town Meeting.”

Whew. Powerful letter. The ZBA Vice-chair then allowed comments from the audience. Since I was not able to get everyone's name, I will simply provide snippets of the discussion, mentioning some of the additional points raised:

1.) Increased use via a drive-thru will take away tip money that would ordinarily go to local workers at other restaurants.
2.) “As an oysterman, I find a lot of DD garbage.”
3.) A man stated the DD cups get dropped as far away as Cahoon Hollow Road.
4.) No traffic study has been done. Traffic congestion will be an issue, especially in summer.
5.) We have rules for signage in this town, and one signage bylaw states no moving parts. The speakers would have moving parts.
6.) Someone raised the issue of greed. DD served 50000 people in July and August, 2011. Isn’t the owner making enough money?
7.) An abutter said the noise and light is problematic for her young family. She was worried about the potential of DD’s being open 24 hours. “I’m trying to raise a family here.” She pointed out people seem happy to go inside the restaurant and use the wireless. “This is a lifestyle. This is not what Wellfleet is about.”
8.) Cove Road is a blind curve. “From a safety perspective, it’s a no-starter. I love your product, but this is a bad idea.”
9.) “Wellfleet is a small town. This is not Yarmouth. Please respect the will of the citizens.”
10.) Selectman Berta Bruinooge said she was also concerned about the possibility of DD being open 24 hours. “We do not need a 24-hour establishment in our town.”
11.) Steven Russell said, “I run an outdoor theater in the summer. Part of my soundtrack is hearing numbers called.”
12.) Abutter Marie Pellegrino refuted Zehnder’s comparison with bank drive-thrus. The two banks he mentioned do not abut residential neighborhoods, she declared. “I won’t even be able to get out of my driveway in summer.”
13.) Someone said that his summer tenants were horrified by DD. How would they react to the addition of a drive-thru?
13.) Dick Morrill’s remark I already shared here.

Next George Zografos declared, “I know what it feels like to be the white elephant in the room. It was tough to sit here and listen. I’ve been on Cape Cod for 25 years. I really care about the towns. I’m actually proud of the Wellfleet location. I cleaned it up. It had been an eyesore.” He further stated he would have fixed the problems if anyone had mentioned them. He told a sob story about almost going bankrupt 20 years ago and getting a fresh start. He contributes to local non-profits. He asked to have the opportunity to fix the things that don’t work. “If I can’t make it right, we won’t do it.”

Then ZBA members were asked for their opinions. Most said they needed time to think this over. Only Mick Lynch said he would probably vote yes if changes were made to the plan.

Drucker assured the crowd that comments from abutters are taken very seriously. He saw the reduced property values as a hard barrier for the applicant to overcome and reminded everyone that a special permit is a privilege, not a right. He also raised the issue of what type of permit Bob Costa had originally obtained for Christine’s Oasis, the restaurant in operation at the corner of the building for many years.

There was discontent at ten p.m. because so many members of the audience expected a decision and did not understand why the meeting needed to be “continued.” Drucker concluded that on Thursday, January 5th, the board would provide findings of fact to support its decision one way or the other.

I will not be in town that day. Will you? If you are, do plan to attend the meeting. If not, please write a letter. Drucker prefers them short and sweet. I urge everyone to express an opinion to the ZBA, and this request includes non-residents. (Address: 300 Main Street, Wellfleet MA 02667.) It’s great to also share your opinion in the comment section. What do you think of the drive-thru proposal? Did you attend the hearing? Is there anything important I neglected to mention?