This week, the owner of a 140 suite office building on Route 9 defended his right to use the abutting retail plaza to allow tenants access to Breakneck Hill Road. William Depietri told the Planning Board that as the owner of both lots, he felt he had the right to connect the sites.
Depietri denied that it was a violation of the condition of orders for the two site plans. It was an opinion that wasn’t shared by most Planning members or any of the commenting residents. But, as of Monday night, the board had no course of action other than to wait for a response from the new Building Commissioner.
The agenda item on Monday was a “discussion”. According to Town Planner Karina Quinn, the new zoning enforcement officer has been asked to address the issue. But as she just started this month, she was still busy getting up to speed.
At the meeting, Depietri stated that he had created the connection between the two lots to allow access from the office building to the back road. The developer acknowledged that the Site Plan for the office building at 144 Turnpike Road didn’t allow egress on Breakneck Hill Road “of any kind”. But he dismissed concerns about the new access by saying it wasn’t “direct”.
Planning Board Chair Don Morris reminded Depietri that he served on the board when the Site Plan was approved. He said the conditions were based on neighbors concerns that commuters from the office would take Breakneck Hill Road to head towards Woodland and other back roads towards Ashland.
Depietri likened the new access to cars taking Route 9 then turning around at the next traffic lights to head back to Breakneck Hill Road. He furthered that drivers that want to would still turn onto Woodland at the next intersection.
Later in the meeting, others pointed out that Woodland Road is a much wider street with a line down the middle and better site lines. Traffic studies that were conducted at that time contributed to the decision that access should be directed to route 9.
Planning Board members expressed concern about a change to the site plan without applying for a modification or conducting a new traffic study. Jesse Stein said he could see how Depietri would think it was a judgement call by the owner. But allowing that would be a slippery slope. He believed the board needed to protect the Town’s process.
Paul Dyer of Breakneck Hill Road recalled the original hearings. He said the lack of access to Breakneck Hill Road had been residents’ one victory on the project. Seeing what’s happening on the narrow street with hairpin turns, he’s concerned not only for residents but the safety of drivers.
Hal Kiess from Mt Vickery Road wondered if a property owner is able to make changes despite order of conditions, what would the point be of having a Planning Board.
He told the board that the new access clearly changed the dynamic of traffic in the area. The nearby resident said he had seen the increase in backed up traffic at the intersection of Breakneck Hill Road and Route 9. Not knowing about the new access, he hadn’t understood why.
Kiess pointed out that a peak time for office commuters leaving via the plaza overlaps parents picking up kids at the daycare across from the plaza exit. He believed that the increased difficulty for those parents to turn left out of the lot to Route 9 has forced them to reroute through Mt. Vickery Road to route 85.
Barbara Dyer of Breakneck Hill Road said that she walks her dogs every day. She had taken to walking Mt. Vickery, but it has changed over the years. Every day they are almost getting hit. She’s also seeing cars almost getting hit. As for whether that related to the recent access she said “remained to be seen.”
Depietri told the board that a sign prohibits left turns out of the plaza. But he expressed doubt that many people adhere to it.
John Butler shared concern over the backroad access. But he told the board the issue he saw as the #1 safety concern was parking. Butler explained to the board that prior to the connection installed between lots, cars had been parking on Breakneck Hill Road some evenings. He later suggested that the best outcome might be to allow the connection to stay but with a fenced off area in the abutting lot. That would allow overflow parking without office building access to Breakneck Hill Road.
Depietri had indicated that parking was one of the reasons for the connection. But he had painted it as a secondary need for when the plaza was busy on weekends. He didn’t voice an opinion on Butler’s suggestion but didn’t seem to respond favorably.
No residents spoke in defense of Depietri. But the developer told the board he had made his decision after his attorney advised him it was within his rights.
In the end, Morris said that Depietri could take back the change and apply for a modification. Or, he said the owner could wait to hear from zoning and the board and potentially “be subjected to” their terms for rectifying the situation. Saying they were “in disagreement”, Depietri said he would wait to hear back from them.
[Editor’s Note: It’s worth noting that Depietri also owns the next two office building plazas that abut 144. They are currently unconnected. But, if the first connection is allowed by rights as a property owner, would that mean connecting to those plazas would also be allowed?]
Updated (1/30/19 1:53 pm): I revised the original sentence in the third paragraph saying that “the new zoning enforcement officer will look at it” to be more clear.