Owner of 144 & 154 Turnpike Roads defends parking lot connection

by beth on January 30, 2019

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Above: With residents upset over a new access point allowing office commuters access to Breakneck Hill Road, the owner defended his right to make changes to his properties. Now they and the Planning Board will wait to hear what the Town’s new zoning enforcer has to say. (images cropped from SAM video)

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.

1 arborist January 30, 2019 at 3:39 PM

I went to HOLA the other night to eat, I couldn’t make a right turn into the place coming down breakneck hill road because of all the cars leaving work using the new connecter , my first thought was wow there is a lot of cars leavening all at once , then I saw the cut thro, bad for business in that plaza. Hope the Building officer and planning board gets it blocked off. Talking about trying to pull a fast one.

2 my town sb southborough January 30, 2019 at 4:59 PM

Unbelievable. What is the purpose of a Board?

What is the point of having a Board? So any developer can run rough shod over residents’ safety and give the middle finger salute to the Board who set the conditions?
And then have that Board “make a deal” after the fact? What is this? Catch me if you can? Cost of doing business? At the expense of the safety of the residents who thought they had conditions that protected them?

From the article above: “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.” And “In the end, Morris said that Depietri could take back the change and apply for a modification.”

No. This cannot be allowed. This connection must be closed immediately. The developer ignored the Town’s rules on this project. Period.

This is not serving the best interests of the citizens, again. The taxpayers have a right to a Board that functions properly and actually sees to enforcement of its own conditions set at the time of the development.

The Planning Board should be doing the job it is elected to do. That means not caving to any developer at all who decides to break the law. Any group or individual who goes against existing laws or conditions of a Board knowingly should be reprimanded and fined, not “make a deal.”

3 beth January 31, 2019 at 11:40 AM

My understanding is that the Planning Board’s role is to reject or approve certain permits which can be with conditions. But our bylaws don’t appear to give them the ability to rule on violations and levy fines. They Enforcement falls to the enforcement officer. In our Town that is the Building Commissioner.

So the board reviewed the situation and brought their concerns to the attention of the property owner and the zoning officer.

You can find the zoning enforcement section of the bylaw in the Town Code here: https://www.ecode360.com/9540664#9540664

Due to the transition of zoning officers, nothing has happened yet. It appears the board tried to work things through with the developer hoping that he would voluntarily close off the access point and apply for a modification – which they could approve, reject, or condition. Since he isn’t doing that, they have to wait to see what the Building Commissioner says.

(If someone is aware that Planning does have the right to act without going through the Building Commissioner, please correct me.)

4 Todd January 30, 2019 at 7:24 PM

The developer/owner needs to be held to the plan.

5 Doc January 31, 2019 at 9:42 AM

I originally thought the cut through was for overflow from the shopping plaza – goodness knows the parking lot is absurdly full at times. Interesting to see it was installed primarily for the office building to egress.

It has, however, benefitted the shopping plaza in that many transients use the parking in the shopping plaza and walk over to the office building. These aren’t just office employees walking to Starbucks, they’re people visiting the office building and leaving their cars in the shopping plaza despite the numerous signs that say the parking is for the shopping plaza only.

But while the cut through can be a benefit for the office plaza needing to head west on Route 9, there are obvious concerns about “non-local” traffic making the left out of the shopping plaza, as much as there simply isn’t enough room on Breakneck Hill road for all the traffic.

At the end of the day, right or wrong, a process should have been followed and the lots’ owner should have followed it.

6 David Parry January 31, 2019 at 10:03 AM

It seems that a sensible solution to all sides might lie in Mr Butler’s suggestion, described above, quote:

“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.”

That suggestion seems eminently sensible for 3 reasons. (1) It would solve the parking problem on site, benefiting all businesses and customers. (2) It would avoid the safety hazard of parking outside the lot, on a narrow road. And (3) it would reduce the safety hazard of more commuters driving along Breakneck Hill Rd.

I might add a point. If the developer implemented it soon, (by simply installing a fence), then he MIGHT avoid the pending decision, concerning a possible violation of site plan conditions. These conditions did not allow a direct connection from the OFFICE building parking lot onto Breakneck Hill Rd. A fence would eliminate any direct connection, so there would be no longer be a violation.

7 Concerned Voter January 31, 2019 at 12:12 PM

Sorry, but could not disagree more. As other residents have pointed out above, a process should have been followed and for whatever reason, was not. The upshot is that the connection should be removed immediately. Generally speaking, do the rules, laws, and process apply to everyone else but not any one single developer? All developers are subject to the same process. That’s called fairness. The connection goes immediately and fines levied. That’s called enforcement.

8 David Parry January 31, 2019 at 2:19 PM

Of course, I agree with you … that site plans need to be enforceable, and rules must apply equally to all.

In this case, I was supporting one possible physical solution (a fence), suggested by a resident of Breakneck Hill.

I was careful NOT to advocate what “MIGHT” happen as a result of such a fence actually being installed … with regard to a determination that a violation of a particular condition was in fact created. (The condition being that there should be no direct connection to Breakneck Hill Rd … Which the fence would prevent).

Hope this is more clear. As they say “Everyone’s home is their castle”.

9 Publius February 6, 2019 at 1:51 PM

Mr. Parry offers a sensible solution.

10 southsider January 31, 2019 at 1:50 PM

Can the “local traffic only” sign trying to limit left hand turns out of that lot actually be enforced by police? what’s the fine for illegal turning? one or two days of enforcement every now and then would re-educate those office workers.

Also curious if there’s been any improvement on the overall plaza parking situation since the last time a reader mentioned that the underground garage is almost never used.

11 funny! February 5, 2019 at 8:01 AM

Funny you should ask about illegal turning.

You’ve apparently missed all the tie-ups on route 9 at the Middle Road intersection where there’s a (hazardous!) break in the Jersey Barriers. Frequently, 18-wheelers are using this opening to perform U-turns. They often require two tries to get it right, completely blocking ALL of the route 9 outbound lanes and jeopardizing the route 9 eastbound lanes as they seesaw back and forth trying to complete their turn-around.

Going a bit further east to the route 85 interchange isn’t much better for the 18-wheelers because of their length. They typically cross into the opposing lanes in the cloverleaf and have knocked down the STOP sign, before pulling into route 85 and, again, intruding into the southbound lane.

We seem to be waiting for a few fatalities to occur before attempting to resolve these issues.

One solution would be to CLOSE the opening at Middle Road. I cannot tell you how many close calls I’ve observed watching route 9 eastbound vehicles turning left onto Middle Road into oncoming westbound route 9 traffic. Middle Road is offset from the Jersey barrier opening, so the turning vehicles travel against the oncoming route 9 westbound traffic. Collisions at this intersection are not infrequent!

Perhaps the Breakneck Hill, traffic light controlled, intersection would be a better location for the trucks to perform their U-turns?

12 southsider February 5, 2019 at 9:46 AM

I’ve seen that happen there too… I wonder how easy it is for the town to post a “cars only” sign there? or because it’s a state highway, must we ask the State?

13 Pat D February 5, 2019 at 1:28 PM

Years ago, Middle Road traffic could cross straight across Route 9. There were so many deaths (one which I witnessed involving a motorcycle) and accidents at that cross over, the state finally prohibits going straight across. But every once in a while, someone will still try to do it—idiotic and asking for trouble!!! There also used to be an opening at Parkerville Road but that was permanently closed with barriers.

14 Mom January 31, 2019 at 11:45 PM

I had been wondering why there was so much traffic coming out of the plaza lately. I thought, wow! Business must be good! lol.
But there really isn’t enough space right there on Breakneck for additional traffic. There have been some tight squeezes since the traffic increase. Plus, it’s already a dangerous intersection. There’s just too much going on in that one small spot.

15 Townie February 1, 2019 at 4:52 PM

I’m ok with the owner using it for additional spaces, but the board should tell him he needs to but up a barrier to avoid the business nest door from using it as an access, like it was intended.

16 M February 2, 2019 at 1:39 PM

Wow. I would like to know why Mr. Dipietri says he ” had made his decision after his attorney advised him it was within his rights.” THIS should definitely be looked into. Do we have a loophole in the agreement? That is the true issue here, because he can either do this or not. It should be stopped now; if it poses any sort of safety concern then it would seem a cease and desist is warranted until such time as the legal argument can be resolved. This cut-thru must be closed for now. An appeal to a board is laughable now because it’s the old unfortunate ploy of “don’t ask permission, just do it and ask for forgiveness”. No. Not where safety is concerned.

17 beth February 3, 2019 at 2:46 PM

The purported loophole would be the claim by Depietri that the indirect entry through the abutting parking lot doesn’t qualify as adding access to Breakneck Hill Road.

Whether that really is a loophole or not is yet to be determined by the zoning enforcement officer (or potentially, ultimately the courts if he appealed a rejection by the Building Commissioner).

The other question that seems to need addressing is whether the owner of two properties has the right to change the access between the properties without applying for a modified site plan. Depietri was defending that right. Planning Board members’ comments about layout/design of the access point seemed to indicate they thought that required a modification application.

18 Kelly Roney February 3, 2019 at 11:10 PM

The order of conditions is the order. It doesn’t have to be justified by safety concerns (although it could be), and Depietri is plainly in violation of it, no matter what attempts he might make to evade and excuse that violation. So, what are we as a town going to do about it?

19 Arborist February 4, 2019 at 9:34 AM

Placing 6 large boulders, Properly placed across the opening, should do the trick.

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