In their quest to raze seven buildings and put up a gas station on Upper Whalley Avenue, developers met with skeptical neighbors to unveil their new and improved plan—which looks a lot like the old plan.
That unveiling occurred at a community meeting at Mauro-Sheridan school in Westville.
For months, Cumberland Farms has been working on a plan to put up the 4,500-square-foot convenience store and 12 gas pumps at the corner of Whalley and Dayton. The proposal calls for tearing down a liquor store and six other buildings. It would require special zoning approval, since a gas station is not normally allowed in a BA zone.
Cumberland Farms put the plan on hold after the City Plan Department advised the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) to deny the approval. City Plan’s Tom Talbot said the new store would create light, noise, and traffic problems for neighbors and would be unnecessary since a 24-hour gas station exists right across the street.
The plan is nevertheless back on the agenda for Tuesday’s BZA meeting. Cumberland Farms submitted a supplement to its original application, in response to the City Plan report. Click here to read it.
Chuck Meek and Patrick O’Leary, a development consultant and an engineer who are working on the project, met with neighbors Thursday evening to explain what has changed.
Turns out: Not much.
Among the changes: The store would no longer be open 24 hours per day; it would close between midnight and 5 a.m. It would not have outdoor seating or shrubbery, so as to discourage loitering and hiding places. And, as part of the construction, a new turning lane would be added to the northern half of Dayton Street, to prevent a back-up of cars.
Cumberland Farms’ supplemental letter to the BZA states that the store would have more surveillance cameras and a 6-foot tall ornamental fence to buffer light and sound.
None of those tweaks were met with rave reviews at the Thursday evening’s meeting. Neighbors continued to ask tough questions about the new store’s impact on the neighborhood, particularly on what the new lane of traffic would mean for pedestrians and drivers.
O’Leary said the new lane would go on the northbound side of Dayton. The northbound side of the street would then have a left-turn-only lane and a combined right-and-left-turn lane. That would allow for two lanes of cars to turn left, so that more cars could move through the light, O’Leary said.
The project would also create a curb-cut on Dayton for access to the new gas station.
That would exacerbate traffic problems, argued one neighbor.
Other types of commercial ventures besides gas stations could be built at the corner without special zoning permission, O’Leary (pictured) said. “We’re trying to make the traffic go away.”
“I come out of Fairfield Street every day,” said Paul Chambers, referring to the street that connects with Dayton mid-block. “I don’t see any benefit that lane will give to me.” Chambers said he’s never been delayed at the light more than one cycle.
Cumberland Farms doesn’t need to build the lane if it’s not wanted, O’Leary said.
Bird In The Hand
Laura Pirie (pictured), who lives in Westville, wasn’t won over by the tweaks to the plan. What about density and noise pollution? she asked. How does the plan support the city’s comprehensive plan?
A new Cumberland Farms would be much better than what’s there now, said O’Leary. The site has “limited potential” for redevelopment. While the community might want a three-story mixed-use building put up right on the street, “nobody’s seen a proposal for that,” O’Leary said.
Pirie said a mixed-use development would add to the walkability of the neighborhood, “as opposed to the suburban style” gas station that’s proposed.
“We have absolutely zero other uses” proposed, O’Leary said.
To be approved, Cumberland Farms has to prove that it’s plan is the “highest and best use” of the property, Pirie said. The street already has gas stations and convenience stores nearby. Why would the BZA approve this?
“We think the overall proposal is good for the community,” O’Leary said. It “refreshes a very tired streetscape.”
O’Leary said the Cumberland Farms would build on an another recent improvement: The McDonald’s restaurant nearby was just rebuilt.
Pirie interrupted to note that the new McDonald’s was “pulled up to the street,” not set back behind a parking lot.
“We couldn’t do that,” O’Leary said. The site wouldn’t allow the store to be right on the street while still allowing access to the gas pumps.
After the meeting, Pirie said the Cumberland Farms proposal doesn’t seem to have changed.
“I think there’s a higher and better use,” she said. “The community needs to look beyond the bird in the hand.”
Richard Furlow (pictured listening to neighborhood organizer Chris Heitmann), who lives one block from the site, disagreed. “What’s there now is an eyesore,” he said. “What are we going to do, wait 10 years” for the perfect proposal to come along?
At the end of the meeting, West Hills/Beaver HIlls/Upper Whalley/Beverly Hills Alder Angela Russell asked neighbors to consider a question, and bring their answers to the BZA meeting on Tuesday. Her question: “Is this proposal the right business mix for this community?”
Asked how she’d answer the question, Russell said she wants whatever the community wants.