The East Watertown CVS proposal did not pass muster with the Planning Board, but the Coolidge Square project is not dead.
Wednesday night, the Planning Board heard from developers about changes made to the proposed 13,300-square-foot pharmacy at the corner of Mt. Auburn and Arlington streets.
Architect Kevin Patten of BKA Architects showed drawings of the new facade which included a scaled down front entrance that would not protrude as much above the roofline, and the glass split up by glazing so they do not look like such large panes of glass.
Another alteration was the addition of more landscaping and a wall that curves to “blur the line” between what is CVS and what is the public sidewalk, Patten said.
The traffic study for the project has been criticized by both members of the Planning Board and area residents. The study was reviewed by the town’s traffic engineering firm, which agreed with the numbers and conclusions made by Bob Michaud, the traffic engineer with MDM Transportation Consultants who did the original study.
The new project would add relatively few new cars, he said, with 19 trips in the morning commute and 56 trips in the evening peak. About 70 more trips would be added on the busiest time on Saturdays.
The developers, Coolidge Square II LLC, would make improvements to the Mt. Auburn/Arlington intersection, including optical ramps at all four corners, a sidewalk along the length of the project and count-down pedestrian signals.
The project would totally change the neighborhood, said Wells Avenue resident David Peckar. It would remove the office building next to Mt. Auburn Grill, the gas station and the Elk’s Club Lodge. This would create a “canyon” which allows noise, light and wind from the Mt. Auburn/Arlington intersection through to the homes along Wells Avenue – which face the back of the project.
Many worry the CVS would dwarf the size of the other businesses in Coolidge Square. A petition signed by more than 190 residents and Coolidge Square shoppers opposing the project was presented to the Planning Board. One of the objections was that the project would change the character of the area.
Town Councilor Angeline Kounelis said Coolidge Square is a place where people have personal connections to the businesses and merchants.
“These residents call Coolidge Square home,” Kounelis said. “People know the merchants and like to interact with them. It’s a destination.”
Traffic – both on the site and around it – also worried many. Mal Atamian, owner of Mt. Auburn Grill, worried about the trucks making deliveries to CVS. They would come through the back parking lot and deliver to the rear of the store.
“It’s an accident waiting to happen,” Atamian said.
Kounelis said traffic coming from Wells Avenue will back up on Bigelow Avenue as drivers wait to get onto Mt. Auburn Street.
Under the proposal, more traffic would come through this way because the new entrance to CVS would be located on Arlington Street. While cars can enter from both directions from Arlington, they can only turn right, to head away from Mt. Auburn Street, when leaving that driveway. Cars heading north on Arlington or going to Mt. Auburn Street must drive through the Wells Avenue parking lot and turn right on Wells (a one-way street), to get back to Mt. Auburn Street.
Only only three or four cars can stack up on Bigelow to wait for the light before they block Wells Avenue, Kounelis said.
Planning Board Vote
Planning Board Chairman John Hawes said he did not think the traffic study really looked at the impact on the immediate area around the CVS site. He too worried about the Wells Avenue/Bigelow Avenue/Mt. Auburn Street area.
“I am inclined to vote no, mostly because of traffic,” Hawes said.
Planning Board member Jeffrey Brown said he liked the project architecturally, but he also has to consider what residents think about the project.
“This board always listens to local – 200 signatures – I’ve never see that sort of reaction,” Brown said.
The changes made to the design of the CVS did not impress Planning Board member Neal Corbett.
“The effort to address it architecturally is weak at best,” said Corbett, who said it was like “putting lipstick on a pig.”
One Planning Board member, Neal Brennock, voted for the project. He said it would bring some balance to Coolidge Square. He also wondered if the reaction would be the same if what was proposed was not a major chain.
“I wonder if it wasn’t a CVS, if it was a crafts store this size or a coop food store … I wonder if it is the brand name people are in opposition to,” Brennock said.
The 3-1 vote against the project pleased Peckar.
“I think it is refreshing to see a community cares enough about a neighborhood to stand up for it,” Peckar said. “Real urban neighborhoods that are walkable are disappearing.”
The project can still be approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals and be built, said Assistant Town Manager Steve Magoon. The ZBA meets next on Wednesday, Dec. 17 at 7 p.m. and the CVS project will likely be on the agenda.
Other options would be to build the project allowed “as of right,” Hawes said. The original plan, when it was proposed as a Walgreens, would have been built in the existing office building. Hawes said developers could do this without needing to get Planning Board approval.
Peckar said he would prefer that because it would maintain some of the barrier from the noise and light for Wells Avenue residents.