PITTSFIELD >> A consultant's report has raised serious concerns about the impacts of a proposed Dunkin' Donuts restaurant on the campus of the former St. Mary the Morning Star Church on Tyler Street.
Cafua Realty Trust is seeking a variance from the city Zoning Board of Appeals to extend a commercial zoning district at the site by 50 feet to accommodate a planned 2,100-square-foot restaurant and drive thru operation.
The board began its review of the request Wednesday and will continue the hearing on July 20, when the applicants are expected to address the consultant's report.
John Mullin, a planning consultant with Mullin Associates Inc., of Pelham, was hired by the city with funding from the developer to help review the project impacts. Noting that the project would be within the Tyler Street Transformative Development Initiative District, which is eyed for redevelopment with help from a state-funded planner, Mullin addressed the "character of the neighborhood."
"It is my professional opinion that this project will be detrimental to the character of the neighborhood," he stated in his report.
"The creation of a restaurant and drive thru would represent a fundamental change to the retail pattern," Mullin said. "It would be oriented to automobile customers 'passing through' the neighborhood rather than local residents."
The project, he added, "emphasizes auto dependent uses."
Introducing a restaurant and drive thru, Mullin said, "announces that the historic legacy of the neighborhood is insignificant," and it adds "more intense activity associated with the highway business restaurants."
The developer proposes subdividing out a .8-acre parcel for the restaurant, with a drive through and new curb cuts, at the Tyler Street-Plunkett Street intersection. The former St. Mary's campus is on 2.6 acres and includes the church, a former parish school, a convent and a rectory building.
Mullin termed the campus "the most significant site along the [Tyler Street] corridor," adding. "It's future will be a tipping factor in the future direction of the corridor."
The consultant also found the Dunkin' project "inconsistent with the City of Pittsfield's Master Plan," which calls for the revitalization of historic urban neighborhoods and favors pedestrian-friendly uses and preserving traditional land use patterns.
In a separate report to the city, Juliet Locke, a transportation engineer with Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc., of Springfield, raised questions about the traffic impacts of the proposed restaurant and drive thru. She said additional traffic at the Tyler-Plunkett intersection should not be added "if sight distance requirements cannot be met."
And Locke recommended seeking further vehicle crash data for a five-year period from city police concerning the record of accidents at intersections in the project area. She also called for further review of Plunkett Street to ensure it can accommodate an increase in vehicle traffic, and a check of vehicle trip data around Dunkin' Donuts restaurants in the city to ensure a accurate count.
And Trinity Engineering Technical Services of Stamford, Vt., also hired to review the project plans with funding from Cafua, reported to the city on the project's stormwater drainage plan. The report requested clarification from the developer on several points of the stormwater system design.
James Scalise, of SK Design Inc., which prepared the project plans, said Wednesday that he had just received some of the consultant reports and would respond be able to the questions at the July ZBA meeting.
Scalise traced the history of the project, in which an earlier plan in 2014 to raze the church was dropped amid strong public opposition. He said the current plan was put forth in 2015 — calling for razing a convent and rectory building and leaving the church for possible reuse — as an alternative. The current plan calls for creating a separate .8-acre lot at the intersection, he said, adding that the changes were in response to calls for preserving the church, which would be donated for other uses.
Scalise said he also would work with city staff members to try to address some of the questions raised prior to the next meeting.
The church, constructed in 1948, and the former church school campus, are owned by the Catholic Diocese of Springfield, which has a sale agreement with the developer.
Members of the Friends of St. Mary's group attended the packed meeting room at City Hall. Former City Councilor Michael Ward said the project and an extension of the business zone into a residential zone represents "a very troubling idea" and a "high-impact use" for the Tyler Street area.
He added that as a councilor he heard numerous complaints from residents about noise and loitering at a Dunkin' Donuts and drive thru that is located not far away at 84 Dalton Ave. and believes such problems could develop at the Tyler Street site.
Even if the ZBA grants a variance to extend the commercial zone by 50 feet for the project, Cafua also would require a special permit from the City Council for the drive thru operation. A request from Cafua for a Dunkin Donuts drive thru permit at First and Fenn streets was rejected in 2013 by the council, and the company's appeal of that decision to Massachusetts Land Court was rejected.
The St. Mary's group has said other developers have expressed interest in the St. Mary's church building and the campus for reuse plans they believe would better preserve the structures and the character of the site. However, they said other potential developers are blocked from presenting a different plan because of the agreement between the diocese and Cafua.
Contact Jim Therrien at 413-486-6247.