April 30, 2014LITTLETON— With a room full of concerned abutters, the zoning board decided to delay a public hearing on a proposed supermarket near I-93 Exit 41. The decision was made after the board agreed with Don Lavoie, a member of the Bethlehem planning board, that the development would have a regional impact.
State law establishes that developments of regional impact require notification to neighboring towns and, in this case, the North Country Council. Both Bethlehem and the NCC are given an opportunity to provide Littleton input on the effects of the supermarket proposal. The parcel in question sits on land that borders the Bethlehem town line. I-93 serves as the northern boundary of the property.
The application for a zoning variance was submitted by Noble Development. Based in Providence, R.I., the company was incorporated in 2010. Noble intends to keep a large portion of the 26.8 acre lot for green space. The applicant also expressed a desire to work with abutters on buffer zones between the development and nearby residences.
Before the board voted to declare the regional impact of the proposal, chairman Eddy Moore noted the project's large size. He called the application "one of the biggest cases I have sat on in 30 years."
When Lavoie raised the regional impact issue, Moore responded, "This is the first time the board has met on this." In support of Lavoie's suggestion, Moore continued, "To me, it is a regional impact."
At last week's board hearing, developer Richard Baccari II did not object to deeming the project a regional impact. Even with a delay necessitated by the board's decision, he said last week that he wants the process to proceed "the right way from the beginning." He added the developer does not want a "false start" on the variance process.
Approval of a variance before the zoning board is not the only regulatory step for the proposed supermarket. The town's planning board also gets a say, and state regulators will be involved because of wetlands on the site. Drainage issues in the area are also an item to be addressed by any development.
One driver for the development, according to Baccari, is an analysis showing the demand for additional supermarkets. The idea is to increase competition, which can decrease prices for consumers.
The developer had previously studied other possible locations for a new supermarket. Site challenges, including large amounts of ledge, were part of the decision to pursue the proposed lot just off Cottage Street. Previous developers have noted the amount of blasting that would be necessary for other vacant lots in town, including the Highland Croft site and other spots along Meadow Street.
Baccari has worked with abutters at previous New England sites, he said last week. The idea for the supermarket site includes permanently conserving most of the lot.
The zoning board now includes three new members: Jessica Daine, Jerry LeSage, and Art Tighe, all of whom attended last week's discussion. The date for the rescheduled hearing on the proposed Exit 41 development has not been set.