Town looking into “non-compliance” at Capital Group property on Rte 9

by beth on December 6, 2018

Post image for Town looking into “non-compliance” at Capital Group property on Rte 9

Above: Recently installed pavers allow drivers at 144 Turnpike to access Breakneck Hill Road via the abutting parking lot. The Planning Board is questioning how and why that happened. (image from Planning Board packet)

Indirect access to Breakneck Hill Road was added to the parking lot for the 144 Turpike Road office building. Following up on a resident’s tip, the Planning Board discovered what it views as “apparent non-compliance” with the Site Plan Approval.

Drivers can now access the back road via the abutting parking lot for The Crossings plaza.

The board discussed the situation at Monday night’s Planning Board meeting. Planning members want to hear from how and why the change was made without seeking a modification to the Major Site Plan Approval. According to Town Planner Karina Quinn, the owner of both properties wasn’t available to attend the meeting. Capital Group Properties’ William Depietri asked to appear before the board in mid-January.

In the meantime, Quinn provided the information to the interim Building Commissioner. Chair Don Morris told the board that if the commissioner determines a violation within his purview, he could order the road be closed. (The newly appointed commissioner isn’t expected to start until sometime in January.)

Morris briefed the public on how the situation developed. Following a tip from a property neighbor, he discovered that pavers were installed between abutting corners of the parking lots. He informed Quinn, who informed the other members. Prior to the meeting, Quinn and other members individually checked out the situation.

Quinn reiterated that a condition of the 1996 Site Plan Approval for 144 Turnpike Road was:

There be no access, of any type, from the site onto Breakneck Hill Road

144 access point change (from Planning packet)The pavers don’t connect the office park directly to Breakneck Hill. They provide access to The Crossings (aka White’s Corner, 154 Turnpike Rd.) That property already had direct access to Breakneck Hill Road. (Click on image right for the point of added access.)

Morris, who served on the board at the time of decision, said the condition was in response to neighbors’ concerns. Residents had worried about adding office building traffic to Breakneck Hill Road and Mount Vickery Road. He also saw incentive for drivers to take Breakneck Hill to the traffic lights at Route 9 to head west.

Member Andrew Mills said he had observed a steady stream of cars taking the path from 144 and turning left, the direction of Breakneck Hill Road. 

Member Meme Lutrell expressed concern for what she saw as a “clear violation”. She said the road couldn’t afford the extra traffic:

That’s my hood and I don’t drive on that road if it’s raining, or if it’s dark, or if there’s a chance I’ll meet a bus. It’s a tough road.

Member Phil Jenks said that this offers a unique opportunity. He reasoned that if Depietri had sought a change, they would have asked for a traffic study. He posited that someone could now actually count the cars and observe which way they head. 

During the discussion, Mills also raised other issues around the paved drive. He wondered if the elimination of three parking spaces made 154 Turnpike out of compliance on parking conditions. And he noted that the way seemed too narrow, having observed a truck almost clip a car.

Morris voiced concern about access to not just 144 Turnpike but 3 other connected office properties via 136 Turnpike Road.

Google map of 144 Turnpike Rd and abuttersThat would actually be an even bigger issue if Capital Group added a second access point. But it isn’t how things currently stand. 

A quick drive over showed that access on the east side of 144 hasn’t changed since the Google satellite photo was taken – just the west side. (Click on image right for that map.)

If access was added between 144 and 136, it would allow a back way for 5 office buildings to use Southborough Crossing’s access. Capital Group Properties also owns 136, 134, and 132 Turnpike Road. (That seems to be the three Morris was referring to.) In addition, those properties share a driveway with 118 and 120 Turnpike Road.

I followed up with Quinn who confirmed my findings. She couldn’t say whether Morris was mistaken or what he meant by his statement. She planned to follow up with him for future reference.

A meeting with the owner is expected to happen in January. You can check out the Planning Board packet here[Note: The letters in the packet were the initial versions sent to the listed LLC owners. Quinn confirmed that she had followed up to send letters directly to Depietri after she learned that Capital Group owned the LLCs and that Frank Rossi, Jr had passed away.]

Updated (12/8/18 12:21 pm): A comment below shed more interesting light on the situation. Former Advisory member John Butler detailed parking issues at the Crossings plaza that may be behind the newly linked parking lots. 

Butler has documented cars parking on Breakneck Hill Road when the plaza was full. He also points out that the underground garage that was included to meet parking conditions has been closed to public access. (And by Butler’s photographic evidence, it doesn’t seem to be used by many plaza employees.)

In his comment he referred to the pictures he took. He forwarded those to me, with the following explanation:

The one of the cars along Breakneck Hill Road was taken on April 25th 2018 at 6:50pm and emailed to the Building Inspector. It was taken at the same time as the one of the full parking lot.

The photo of the basement parking area was taken a few days later when the lot was again full, or nearly so. (Note that the elevator in the building which provides access to all floors is open to the public. I formerly used it regularly for access to the 2nd floor gym that was there. So I was not entering any areas marked as closed.)

You can view them by clicking the thumbnails below.

 

According to his comment, Butler has been in contact with the Town about this issue which he has taken as non-compliance with parking conditions. You can read the details below.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Townie December 6, 2018 at 1:15 PM

Waiting to hear what the intent of this was. It seems to me that it was intended to be a walking path, since in the pictures there have been stripping painted on the ground for pedestrians traffic only and the use of pavers. I think some employees in the buildings are taking advantage of the size of the paved area and lack of barriers and using it a short cut. Some nice metal or concrete cylinders would prevent cars from using it.

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2 beth December 6, 2018 at 2:30 PM

That would seem to be odd since there is a much narrower walking path between the two buildings that already exists. The photo on my site is too small to make the pre-existing walking path clear, but you can see it in the packet or by looking at the google map image here: https://www.google.com/maps/place/154+Turnpike+Rd,+Southborough,+MA+01772/@42.291716,-71.5200693,139m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x89e38a63e15d7b29:0x93da91d7043934ad!8m2!3d42.2919993!4d-71.5201856

This path is not only much wider, but the location would seem to be inconvenient for people walking between the buildings. Also, I don’t agree with you that the striping looks like it is meant for pedestrian crosswalks. To me it just looks like no parking – especially since on the 144 side the striping is only beside the drive between it and a parking spot.

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3 Townie December 6, 2018 at 3:13 PM

Like I said, waiting to hear from the owner. We can only speculate.

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4 arborist December 6, 2018 at 2:02 PM

no wonder I saw so many cars coming out of the old whites corner parking lot and turning left on breakneck hill rd, the other night,I could hardly make the swing into the lot, not good, hope the town gets to the bottom of it

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5 Kelly Roney December 6, 2018 at 10:44 PM

It’s clearly a parking lot connector, no matter what the developer may call it, and the White’s Corner building clearly needs it for the extra parking it provides for several popular stores and restaurants – Tomasso, Hola, Starbucks, Vin Bin, and Cold Stone Creamery.

I had taken it as a good thing, but I didn’t know it was a site plan violation.

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6 North Sider December 7, 2018 at 7:04 AM

Capital Group also doesn’t maintain the patch of land where they house a big ‘for lease’ sign near the entrance to Flagg from Rt. 9 . So coming out of Flagg onto Rt. 9 there is overgrown grass/weeds/etc. making it hard to see oncoming traffic. The rules don’t always seem to apply to these folks.

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7 Agreed December 7, 2018 at 1:16 PM

And trash…also capital was back there digging some time back and the recent ice/snow storm caused a release of water and ice into the road at the skinny bridge. Not sure if this was on purpose but seems like they made modifications on the site that would release water and has made for a dangerous safety hazard. I’m sure some of our officials will say it was in our best interest cause how could Capital do any wrong.

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8 John Butler December 7, 2018 at 11:17 PM

The non-compliance with regard to parking is, in my view, broader than than this, and has been ongoing for a long time.

When the Whites Corner development was first proposed it seemed that there might not be enough parking. Therefore the Town required, and/or the developer provided, a letter stating that there would be parking available for 35 cars under the building. This was included in the project file. To my recollection, it was a condition of approval, but I am not an authority on that. In fact, so far as I know, the parking under the building has not been available to the public, as the access door is always closed and cannot be opened by patrons of the facility.

On the evening of April 25th of this year I went to Hola restaurant, found the parking lot full, and cars parked on the northbound side of Breakneck Hill Road. This is very dangerous, as drivers coming north on that road, toward Rt 9, have very short sight lines and would not expect to find pedestrians exiting and entering parked cars on the narrow road. The risk of a car hitting a person is high, in my view.

Suspicious that the parking conditions of the development were being violated by the closed garage, I photographed the situation that night and called the Building Inspector soon thereafter, sending him the photographs. (I had also spoken, very briefly to Don Morris, of the Planning Board about this problem on an earlier date at Town Meeting, but it was a very brief conversation, and he would be forgiven for not remembering it.) A short while later the Building Inspector called me and said that he had verified that the letter, promising parking under the building, was actually in the file, but unclear if it was a condition of approval, that the owner had stated the garage was not in fact open to public parking, and that he was “working with” the owner to help remedy the situation. I took no further action with him at the time, but hoped he would enforce the conditions.

I then spoke to one of the managers of an establishment in the facility about the parking and was told that employees could park in the basement, but that the basement was being used also for inventory storage and could not be used by patrons. Returning later, and finding the lot again full again, I took the passenger elevator to the basement to see if the parking garage under the building was full with employee’s cars or inventory. It was in fact almost empty. I photographed it empty, while the lot was full. All these photos are available. Why we have an overflowing parking lot and an empty parking garage because the Town doesn’t enforce its own conditions is beyond me. Perhaps the under-building parking is inadequate, but that is no reason not to make it available. The night that I photographed it, all the cars parked on Breakneck Hill Road would have fit into the garage under the building had it been open.

I took these unusual steps for two reasons. First the situation on Breakneck Hill Road struck me as very dangerous to people parking there, and I thought the Town should be enforcing its development conditions. Secondly, as a nearby resident, and having been active in various capacities in the Town when the project was originally under review, the attorney for the developer had asked me to support the project when it came before the Planning Board. I did so, as citizen and resident. This was why I was aware of the parking stipulation for parking under the building. As a result, I felt some small responsibility that the project be managed to its commitments even though I was without authority. It seems that has not happened for some time, and now may it be in violation in a second manner.

I have presented here my view of the situation. It is no doubt somewhat fragmentary, and all sides must be heard before any final determinations can be made. However, residents of Breakneck Hill Road should not be subject to cars from the office buildings exiting onto their road, pedestrians should not be at risk from unnecessary parking on a dangerous road, and all the original development promises should be enforced.

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9 beth December 8, 2018 at 12:23 PM

Thank you for forwarding your photos.

For those of you who have been following the comments on the story – I posted an update with Mr. Butler’s pictures.

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10 D. McGee December 8, 2018 at 9:55 AM

John,

Very compelling, thoughtful and earnest post. I would love to hear a reply from the Town.

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11 southsider December 8, 2018 at 12:02 PM

Nice work, Mr. Butler and well said.
Additional parking in that lot would be very very nice..

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