New retail building proposed at Homestead Place
July 28, 2009
ALTON — Representatives for Homestead Place owner Bob Bahre appeared before the planning board last week seeking approval to alter the original site plan by replacing a proposed 3,500-square-foot restaurant with a 10,000-square-foot retail space.
Surveyor Mark Sargent (who came before the board along with site plan designer Tim Goldy and environmental engineer Cindy Balcius) explained that Bahre has not had any luck securing tenants in the dining field, and recently decided to change direction and pursue retail tenants interested in setting up shop on the "pad-out" beside Hannaford.
Walking the board through the highlights of the project narrative, Goldy explained that the proposed retail building would be accessed via the main driveway connecting Homestead Place with the Hannaford parking lot.
The preliminary site plan, he said, shows a total of 36 parking spaces (more than required under the town's zoning ordinance) positioned at 70-degree angles, with the parking lot itself situated in a counter-clockwise position, creating a one-way flow of traffic.
The design team felt, he said, that a one-way traffic pattern would help to minimize impacts and provide safe and efficient access for vehicles because the aisles would be relatively narrow.
Emergency vehicles will have full access to all sides of the building, Goldy said.
As part of the original approval for Homestead Place and Hannaford in 2005, he explained, a number of significant off-site improvements were made, including the construction of the traffic light at the main entrance to Hannaford; the widening of Route 28 in order to create the left-turn lane; improvements to Range Road; and a significant financial contribution to the state Department of Transportation for future improvements along the Traffic Circle.
All of that work, he said, was completed under the assumption that a restaurant would be opening on the pad-out, meaning that the improvements were designed to handle a higher volume of traffic than a retail store would generate.
Noting that a six-inch water main was also installed at the site during the construction of Homestead Place, along with a cistern and fire pump, Goldy said the proposed retail building would be tied into that same system, ensuring an adequate supply of water for both domestic use and fire suppression.
Explaining some of the storm water management measures employed during the construction of Hannaford and Homestead Place, he said that in light of new regulations requiring the pre-treatment of runoff coming off a paved parking lot, the engineers laid out a pair of bio-retention ponds lined with mulch, sand, and other permeable materials.
Touching on the issue of snow storage, Goldy explained that with a lack of available space for storage, any accumulation up to half an inch would be plowed into the parking spaces that were used the least, then loaded onto trucks and hauled off the site after three or four successive storms.
The current lighting plan, he said, calls for a combination of cutoff luminaries and wall packs, both dark-sky compliant.
With Balcius explaining the steps taken to minimize the project's potential impact on surrounding wetlands, Sargent wrapped up the presentation with a look at the proposed septic system, which he said was approved (based on the estimated seating capacity of the restaurant) to handle up to 2,350 gallons per day, far exceeding the minimum requirement of 500 gallons per day for a 10,000-square-foot retail space.
Although the system designed for the restaurant was approved in 2005, he said, the developers are planning to hold off on submitting a revised design until they secure an actual tenant, and find out whether 500 gallons per day will be adequate.
Town Planner Sharon Penney asked whether the applicants had any estimates yet as to the number of employees.
Explaining that Bahre has no tenant in place at this time, Sargent said he anticipated no more than five employees.
Bahre, he said, hopes that a nod of approval from the planning board might entice potential tenants to take a look at the site.
The restaurant, Sargent said, was approved with the proviso that the applicant would come back before the board after securing a tenant with a site plan showing what the building would look like.
Penney commented that the lack of any detailed architectural renderings raised several questions, and was an issue the board planned to address at a later point in the meeting.
Noting that the first question Bahre asked the board when he submitted the application for Hannaford was "What do you want to see [in terms of architectural features]?" board member Tom Hoopes re-iterated the board's response at that time: no flat-roofed "boxes," but rather something in keeping with the style of the surrounding neighborhood.
Sargent assured the board that the proposed retail building would be in keeping with the appearance of Hannaford and Homestead Place.
Bahre, he said, wants to attract people to the property, and does not want anything to clash.
Penney read into the record comments from Assistant Fire Chief Ed Consentino, who raised concern about the fact that no fire lanes, entrances, loading docks, or dumpsters were depicted on the site plan, and questioned whether emergency vehicles would be able to access all sides of the building, especially with snowbanks to contend with during the winter.
Goldy replied that they design team had tried to strike a balance between minimizing impact and providing easy access for both emergency personnel and customers.
Without a well-defined architectural plan, he said, it is impossible to note where every single door will be located.
While it would be safe to assume that there will be a door on the front, one in the back, and one near the dumpster, he explained, Bahre is in "that chicken-and-egg state" where it is difficult to get potential tenants interested in the property without assurances of some kind from the board that it is suitable for development.
Hoopes raised concern about the dramatic increase in size between what was originally proposed at the site and the newly proposed retail building.
"It's like putting 10 pounds in a five-pound bag," he said, pointing out that the building might have to be moved away from the wetland area at the back end of the lot, which could create issues with access for emergency and delivery vehicles.
Goldy explained that the amended site plan itself might be causing concern, since it shows only one corner of a 12.75-acre site.
While it may appear, due to the myopic focus on that one corner, that the developers are "really trying to squeeze [the building] on there," he said, the impact on the total parcel would, in fact, be minimal.
"I just don't see a lot of space," Hoopes replied.
Sargent said he thought that was also the case with the original proposal, which showed a smaller building, but with more parking.
Hoopes noted that Bahre was looking at the site in terms of what would be saleable to potential tenants.
From the town's point of view, he said, "if [the building is] too big on a small site, there's a problem."
Turnin to traffic flow at the site, Hoopes suggested that the developers take into account the tendency of some drivers to go the wrong way in a one-way set-up, and plan for appropriate signage.
Echoing Hoopes' concerns about traffic, Penney said that while she considered the proposed retail store a "good project," she felt that there was already a "bumper car mentality" on display between McDonald's and Hannaford.
Urging the developers to consider whatever traffic calming measures might be necessary, including clearly delineated directional signage, Penney acknowledged that signage can reach a "tipping point" where it ceases to help, and only confuses drivers.
Goldy said developers are constantly trying to strike a balance between insufficient signage, which leaves people not knowing where to go, and clutter, which simply leaves them confused.
"I just don't think people are going to pay attention," Penney said, adding that she could not stress her concerns about traffic flow enough.
In the past, she said, she has seen people come to a complete stop on the road near Homestead Place not knowing where to go.
Hoopes commented that he has seen drivers attempt to cut across the grass at the end of the road to get to Route 28.
Penney asked what the traffic projection had been for the restaurant.
Goldy said he wasn't sure, but could provide that information.
Asked by Penney whether he had any information on how much traffic the retail store would generate, Goldy replied that it would be significantly less than the amount generated by a restaurant, which sees more patrons come and go on a daily basis.
Penney said the importance of clearly guiding traffic through the site was a consideration "near and dear" to her heart.
Hoopes commented that people heading toward McDonald's from the Hannaford parking lot would instinctually aim for the first entrance they come to, making it vital for the developers to plan for some sort of traffic calming measure.
"If they can go the wrong way, they will," he said.
Board member and Fire Chief Scott Williams voiced concern about the parking spaces right up against the building.
Given the length of the spaces shown on the site plan, he said, a ladder truck would have to position itself 20 to 40 feet away from the building in the event of a fire, making it difficult for firefighters to make the roof.
Would there be any way, he asked, to create a fire lane on at least one side of the building?
Goldy said the design team could look into the matter.
Reuben Wentworth, owner of Alton Home and Lumber, approached the board when the floor was opened to comments from the public to question whether it was following the appropriate procedure.
Stating that as he understood it, there is a provision in the state RSAs requiring an applicant to file for a new site plan review if nothing has been done on a piece of property for two years or longer, Wentworth said he felt that "significant change" proposed by Bahre warranted a new site plan, rather than an amended version of the original plan.
As someone who had plowed next door to Homestead Place in the past, and had seen Hannaford dump the snow from its parking lot onto the pad-out, he felt that snow removal was an issue that needed to be addressed.
Commenting that the average business in Alton currently experiences between 200 and 300 transactions per day, Wentworth suggested that the developers plan for a minimum of 200 vehicles a day at the proposed retail store.
While he did not know what Bahre had in mind in terms of a tenant, he noted that Hannaford has far exceeded its estimated traffic count, and that his store on Route 11 sees more than 300 transactions per day during the summer.
Although his business is grandfathered, Wentworth said that if he had to do it all over again, he felt certain the board would ask him to do a full site plan review.
Hoopes suggested that the board check with Town Attorney James Sessler about the RSA Wentworth mentioned.
Reading from the original Notice of Decision issued by the board on Dec. 16, 2004, Goldy noted that under the conditions of approval, the restaurant site was listed as being subject to an amended site plan if and when Bahre managed to secure a tenant.
Hoopes said he felt Wentworth was trying to raise the issue of whether or not a site plan ceases to exist after two years of inactivity.
As he saw it, he said, the application was for an amended site plan, and the developers would have to return to the board for a full review after finding a tenant.
Agreeing that there were too many unknowns for them to approve the amended site plan presented last week, the board voted unanimously to continue the case to its next monthly business meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 18, at 6 p.m. at Town Hall.
Starting next month, the board's meetings will begin an hour earlier, at 6 p.m., as per a vote taken at last week's meeting.
Brendan Berube can be reached at 569-3126 or firstname.lastname@example.org