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Property manager cites ‘excitement’ regarding Longmeadow Shops expansion

Aug. 13, 2014 | Chris Maza

Matthew Wittmer of Phase Zero Design goes over plans for expansion of the Longmeadow Shops at the Aug. 6 Planning Board meeting.
Reminder Publications photo by Chris Maza

LONGMEADOW – Grove Property Fund’s Steven Walker, property manager of the Longmeadow Shops, responded to criticism from Selectman Mark Gold at a meeting with the Planning Board on Aug. 6 to discuss the possible expansion of the shopping center and the necessary zoning change to make that possible.

Gold was critical of the proposal when Matthew Wittmer of Phase Zero Design recently appeared before the Select Board, stating the shops had been a “less than perfect neighbor” and had pulled a “bait and switch” the last time ownership went before the town for a zoning change for expansion.

“I wish I had been able to be [at the Select Board meeting]. It would sound from what he said that everyone has a problem with the shops and that’s not true,” Walker said.

He explained there had been a small number of complaints in the past, but he had always done what he could to alleviate those problems.

As examples, Walker cited concerns raised about the manner in which Ume Asian Bistro was disposing of its fish product and the smell it created, an issue he said was addressed, and a complaint from woman on Pinewood Drive regarding the noise from an exhaust fan from Max Burger, which he said is being taken care of by erecting a sound barrier behind it.

Walker noted that residents in the area utilize the shops so regularly that one person who lives on the other side of the berm behind the restaurant dug out stairs to make it easier to traverse down the slope.

The circumstances that kicked off the discussion regarding the shops surround Grove Property Trust’s desire to build a separate structure to the east of the current building, which would require a zoning change for a currently undeveloped plot owned by Grove from A1 residential to a business zone.

The zoning change would require a two-thirds vote at a Town Meeting. After that, the project would have to go through the site and design review process.

Walker said the plans are in response to J. Crew expressing interest in doing business at the shops, which would require expansion.

He explained that if the company was unable to settle in Longmeadow, it could do so in a surrounding community, which could cause other like businesses located in Longmeadow to move there.

“We need to protect our market share,” he said. “You lose a Gap or an Ann Taylor, it’s impossible to replace.”

The new 21,096 square foot building, Walker and Wittmer explained, would consist of three parcels, including a much larger CVS. The current CVS measures 7,900 and the new pharmacy would be 13,76 square feet.

Planning Board Chair Bruce Colton raised questions regarding parking, noting that the proposal as it stands would require a variance because the parking lot did not conform to the town’s bylaw that states there must be enough room for vehicles at 100 percent capacity.

One-hundred percent would be 593 spaces with the added shopping area, while the plan calls for 495 spaces.

Walker and Wittmer said part of the parking issue would be addressed by the relocation of the CVS. Wittmer said the current store is in a difficult location for parking and traffic flow and the new one would feature a drive-through window.

“The CVS traffic consists of a lot more short-stay customers,” Walker said. “There are a lot of elderly and mothers with children going in to grab something and leaving. The drive-through window would be more convenient and could be safer.”

While he didn’t have any studies to cite, Walker theorized that 30 to 40 percent of CVS business could be conducted via the drive-through window.

While Colton said he felt that number might be high, he also said he saw merit in the idea, while Planning Board Clerk Heather Laporte voiced support for the idea, attesting to how difficult it can be to cross the parking lot with children in tow.

“The drive through could alleviate some of the parking issues,” Laporte said, suggesting Grove retrieve some more concrete data from CVS.

Colton also questioned why such a large store was needed, to which Walker explained the current store is undersized according to CVS standards and also requires storage in the basement, which is unusual.

He added he had communicated the expansion plans with neighbors and there was “ a lot of excitement” regarding the project.

Answering questions regarding space between abutters, namely the First Church of Christ, Scientist, on the corner of Williams Street and Redfern Drive, and possible further expansion, Walker said there were no intentions to continue expansion beyond what is proposed.

“The church is for sale right now and they actually approached us about buying it, but there is no interest in buying that land,” he said.

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