PITTSFIELD -- A proposed new Dunkin' Donuts restaurant at the site of the former Plunkett School on the corner of First and Fenn streets could face steep hurdles as the project goes before the Community Development Board and later the City Council for review.
The owner is seeking permits for a new 1,800-square-foot restaurant with drive-thru service -- a key aspect that will require approval by a supermajority of the council, or eight of its 11 members.
The project will also require razing the 103-year-old school building. Efforts to save and restore the school last year were unsuccessful.
Another issue could be the potential for a similar business moving into the current Dunkin' Donuts site on First Street and being allowed to continue to use that restaurant's drive-thru window. On the other side of First Street, across from the current Dunkin Donuts, is a third drive-thru window that belongs to the former Burger King restaurant that is expected to re-open this year.
Given the city's experience with traffic problems around Dunkin' Donuts' current location, Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi and other officials have said they will carefully scrutinize traffic study data for the proposed development.
"My concern is the traffic situation," Morandi said Tuesday. "That is a very busy intersection [Fenn and First streets], and it is close to a church [Zion Lutheran Church at 74 First St.]. I think that whole area along First Street has been a traffic nightmare over the years."
Morandi said moving the Dunkin' Donuts farther south from the East-First street intersection might help, but "it is still in a busy area."
The councilor added that he has reservations about allowing the school to be razed.
"It is an older building, and I hate to see it come down," he said. "Those are really precious."
City Planner C.J. Hoss said the Community Development Board will discuss the project at 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall. The permit applications were submitted by Cafua Management Co. of North Andover, operator of the Dunkin' Donuts currently on First Street and dozens of other franchises in the Northeast. Cafua does not own the site where the business is currently located.
The plan submitted to the Community Development Department shows a drive-thru lane with traffic entering at what is now the rear of the .84-acre school parcel from Fenn Street, with traffic exiting onto First Street.
Hoss said the department will receive a traffic study from its consultant as part of the process. After a review, the Community Development Board will make a recommendation on the project and send it to the City Council, which is required to approve special permits for drive-thru operations.
Hoss said that an analysis by city planning and permitting officials tentatively determined that the two existing drive-thrus could be permitted without special permit approval from the council if the businesses were not closed for more than two years.
Several city officials said they have heard a similar restaurant is interested in moving to the current Dunkin' Donuts site if it becomes vacant, but Hoss said no one has approached his office with plans or inquiries.