By Chris Maza
EAST LONGMEADOW – The Planning Board recently decided to hold off on a decision on whether to approve the special permit and site plan for a new gas station on the corner of Chestnut Street and Shaker Road.
Planning Board Chair Michael Carabetta as well as members Ralph Page and George Kingston each said they would prefer to see updated plans based on the discussion of their March 11 meeting before making a final determination.
Chalmers Enterprises, LLC, a real estate holding entity owned by the Davis family, who formerly owned American Saw and were responsible for the development of Great Woods and The Fields at Chestnut, and L.E. Belcher Inc. brought the matter before the Planning Board, proposing a station with five fueling stations and 10 pumps, as well as a full convenience store.
“The Davis family has owned this parcel for a long time and it’s been vacant since [James] Davis tore down Country Corners quite some time ago,” Attorney James Martin, representing the Davises, said. “For a long time as they looked at what to do with that property, they were looking for a use they thought was a good use for themselves, for the town and balancing that with the right partner. They reached a conclusion that there was a need for a services station and a convenience store at this location in town.”
He added that the organization has heard “great feedback from the community,” who he said believes it is a needed service in that area, and asserted that a gas station in that location could attract people from the south and lessen traffic congestion at the rotary by preventing them from seeking fueling options there.
Martin also said that Chalmers Enterprises has made every effort to work with the town’s officials and accommodate any changes that were deemed necessary to make the site operable and safe.
The major concerns surrounding the project were in regards to the increase in traffic a gas station would create and the safety hazards presented by such a rise in volume.
The traffic study submitted with the application indicated there would be a noticeable increase in traffic with an estimated 1,950 trips in and out of the premises on an average weekday.
It also noted that the Shaker Road entrance to the store was designed to be far enough away from the intersection that it would not significantly impact traffic at that signal, but the entrance on Chestnut Street could cause issues because of its proximity.
Assistant Town Engineer Thomas Moriarty reported in a memo, however, that after a round table meeting, the applicants agreed to restructure the entrance so it was satisfactorily recessed from the intersection.
Robert Parient, superintendent of the Department of Public Works, added in a letter to Planning Director Robyn MacDonald still felt more needed to be done to address traffic issues, stating, “I believe the study is lacking in a number of areas and requires updating before acceptance to the Planning Board.”
He expressed concern that the study contained nothing regarding negative safety impacts on not only traffic near the intersection, but to pedestrians and bicyclists on the Red Stone Rail Trail, which crosses Chestnut Street in close vicinity to the proposed site.
“The study only considers the impact of the development on the intersection capacity and level of service, which is only part of our concerns regarding the project,” he said. “There is no question that the development will increase the potential for a vehicle to vehicle and vehicle to pedestrian collision to the area and the application should be required to evaluate these impacts and propose reasonable mitigation measures.”
He also criticized the study for utilizing models to estimate impact that were more conservative as they should have been and therefore underestimated the trip generation impact.
Martin said his side has since obliged Parient’s request for additional information with specific analyses and said, “The data supported the analysis and the design we had laid out initially.”
Kingston voiced concerns about the traffic turning in and out of the station, pointing out that LaFiorentina, which would be situated across the street, actually hires a police officer to direct traffic at times.
“It would appear to me if someone were to be making a left turn off of Shaker Road into LaFiorentina and it backs up traffic and someone is trying to make a left turn into your place, you’ve got two conflicting left turns and no one will be going anywhere,” he said.
It was suggested that motorists could turn onto Chestnut at the intersection and make a right turn to enter the gas station and it was also noted that the grade of the driveway at LaFiorentina is greater, causing vehicles to proceed more cautiously there than they would have to in entering the station.
There was also a question of whether or not traffic exiting the site on Chestnut Street should be restricted to making a left turn only. Carabetta said making a right turn requirement would prevent traffic back ups at the intersection created by vehicles, including fuel delivery trucks, however, he conceded that sending traffic in one direction would mean more vehicles approaching the rail trail crossing.
The developers offered to put a stop sign on their property.
In addition to congestion concerns, during the public comment portion of the hearing, among the concerns was pedestrian safety, especially for children coming from the nearby Great Woods development, because of the lack of sidewalks in the area. Carabetta called that issue a town matter that was a “bone of contention for the town,” and not the responsibility of the business owner.