Monday February 11, 2013

LENOX -- After nearly a year of periodic meetings on a proposal to convert the only downtown gas station, towing and auto-repair facility to a convenience store with fuel pumps, the Zoning Board of Appeals has asked for a traffic safety study.

The key issue, as expressed by ZBA Chairman Ethan Berg and other members, is whether the proposal is "substantially more detrimental to the character of the neighborhood than existing conditions," especially in connection with traffic safety.

The dispute over the plan to convert Hoff’s Mobil at the corner of Main and Franklin streets has been fueled by opposition to the project from Daniel O’Brien, proprietor of O’Brien’s Market, an immediately adjacent convenience store.

Jeffrey Lynch, the attorney for Glenn Hoff Sr.’s business, Shanlen Realty Corp., has applied for special permits seeking a change in use of the auto-repair facility and a downward revision in available parking spaces from six to four, as well as a loading-dock variance that would satisfy the town’s zoning bylaws.

Lynch argued that congestion caused by delivery trucks servicing the convenience store would not create a safety issue, nor is there any bylaw in Lenox that imposes restrictions on deliveries.

He also contended that the proposed conversion would not be substantially more detrimental to the neighborhood, noting that the gas station, towing and auto repair facility is a "non-conforming use" of the 90 Main St. property that is grandfathered and has existed since the late 1920s, long before the town adopted zoning bylaws.

According to Lynch, "a retail store is an allowed by-right use in this area, something that is encouraged. We are alleviating many of the negative impacts of this non-conforming use."

O’Brien’s attorney, Alexander Glover of Lazan Glover & Puciloski in Great Barrington, challenged the revised proposal, arguing that it would not comply with accessibility, traffic impact, safety, adequate parking spaces, travel lanes and loading-area requirements.

"It’s simply not practical," she told the panel, supporting a traffic-engineering study and citing potential vehicle backups awaiting entry to the convenience store. "Maybe a free-for-all is better; I can’t say."

Advocating the safety study, Berg, the ZBA chairman, mentioned that "we have a neighbor who plans to contest this in court and she believes the safety issue needs to be addressed not by us, but by a professional safety expert. Valid issues have been raised, so it seems only prudent to proceed with the study."

"My concern is we’re facing potential litigation," added board member Robert Fuster Sr., an attorney. "I think we should be as cautious as we possibly can."

Potential litigation has not been mentioned by Glover. "We trust the process and we trust that it will come out the right way," she told The Eagle on Friday.

"There are going to be more cars stopping, people getting things, backing in and leaving than there are now," ZBA member Ned Douglas stated in support of a professional traffic evaluation.

Whether the two sides will agree on a single traffic engineer or commission separate studies remained unresolved on Friday.

Hoff’s revised application for the project, submitted last Oct. 31 and modified by a new site plan presented by SK Design Group at last Wednesday’s zoning session, expired Friday after 100 days, so his attorney is filing for a 60-day extension. The zoning board has scheduled its next meeting, potentially to rule up or down on the project, for April 3.

To contact Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@yahoo.com
(413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto