Cafua withdraws permit request for St. Mary's church parcel


PITTSFIELD >> The company proposing a Dunkin' Donuts on the campus of the former St. Mary the Morning Star Church on Tyler Street has withdrawn its application for a zoning change that was necessary for the project.

City officials said it is possible Cafua Management Co. will also withdraw its request for a special permit for a drive-thru operation at the site, in part because both requests would be required for the project to proceed.

S.K. Design Group Inc., representing the developer, submitted a letter to the Zoning Board of Appeals on Wednesday, notifying the board of the application withdrawal. The board allowed the withdrawal "without prejudice," meaning another request could be submitted in the future.

Nate Joyner, the city's permitting coordinator, said after the meeting that his impression is the developer wishes to "go back to the drawing board" concerning the restaurant plan, and "they still want to submit something later."

The zoning change requested was to extend the business district in the area by 50 feet into a current residential zone to facilitate the drive-thru plan — at the intersection of Tyler and Plunkett streets.

The City Council would have to grant a special permit for the planned drive-thru, and that request has been continued at least three times since the fall. During that time, the developer and the city Community Development Department have negotiated fees the city has requested to cover the cost of traffic or other studies related to reviewing the project.

At a February council meeting when the matter was continued, the Friends of St. Mary's group asked the council to open the special permit hearing and take a vote if no resolution concerning the fees is forthcoming. The Friends group wants to preserve the former church for restoration or reuse.

Members of the ad hoc group said trying to find other potential developers or purchasers for the vacant church building have stalled because of a purchase agreement Cafua entered into with the Catholic Diocese of Springfield.

They also argued that the church building is deteriorating while vacant, including damage from roof leaks.

Cafua in 2014 submitted a development plan that called for razing the brick church for a Dunkin' Donuts and drive-thru, but public opposition quickly grew, and that plan was withdrawn by the company that fall.

The current plan, submitted in August 2015, calls for subdividing the church site from other land on the 2.6-acre church campus for the restaurant and donating the church site to the city or another entity.

Members of the St. Mary's group have said they think it is unlikely most potential uses for the former church would be feasible if it is located next to a Dunkin' Donuts.

Cafua also owns several of the chain doughnut shops in the area and hundreds across Massachusetts and in other states.

The company is also involved in a Land Court case, in which the developer appealed the City Council's 2013 rejection of a drive thru permit for a planned Dunkin' Donuts at First and Fenn streets. The case has been argued and a decision is pending.

That parcel is the site of the former Plunkett School, which the company purchased and razed.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.


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