West Concord building proposal rankles Advisory Committee

By Betsy Levinson betsy@theconcordbridge.org
July 24, 2023

Tensions simmered at the recent meeting of the West Concord Advisory Committee when the developer of 166 Commonwealth Ave. presented plans for a multi-use building on property in Kenneth Dunn Square,

The half-acre site of a former gas station is slated to be developed into a 7,463 sq. ft. three-story complex housing a 61-seat restaurant, a retail business, and two upper floors of one, two and three-bedroom residences.

Parking and traffic were the key issues, with committee members and residents clashing with developer’s representative, attorney Thomas Falwell. The plan will be before the Planning Board for site plan approval, and because it seeks relief from parking requirements, the Zoning Board of Appeals will hear the plan next month.

The plan shows that 36 spots are needed, based on the uses of the building, whereas Falwell’s proposal shows 21 spaces.

The half-acre lot abuts Nashoba Brook Bakery. Falwell said he discussed shared parking with the owner of the bakery/restaurant, but there was no meeting of the minds.

“Discussions were not fruitful,” said Falwell. “There will be no joint parking.”

Falwell said the developer conducted a study of its own which said the 21 spaces would be sufficient. “We can’t configure it” in a different way to allow for more parking, he said.

In a memo to the Appeals Board, Falwell stated that not all residents would have cars due to its proximity to the commuter rail. Similarly, he said restaurant employees could walk to work. 

The WCAC is a subcommittee of the Planning Board. Town Planner Elizabeth Hughes said the town engineering department will conduct a separate assessment of traffic and parking. 

Committee member Ann Sussman, an architect, said the street was too dangerous for a building that would attract the public. She objected to the plans as drawn.

“You have to show the other driveways along the street,” she said. “It’s hugely dangerous and it misguides the public.” Sussman said traffic accidents have increased along the street.

Committee member Nicole Hammond said Nashoba Brook Bakery lacks sufficient parking for its staff, not to mention customers, and didn’t understand why Falwell even tried to find more spaces

“They don’t have any extra to give, even if they wanted to,” said Hammond. Hughes said most of the bakery’s parking is across the wood pedestrian bridge on Winthrop Street.

The committee also objected to the amount of pavement and the placement of the dumpsters, which they hoped could be camouflaged by greenery or moved to the back of the building.

Falwell said there is a “substantial amount of additional planting” proposed, including the addition of a walkway along the brook to the bakery.

New crosswalks are proposed in Kenneth Dunn Square at the intersection of Commonwealth Avenue and Lawsbrook Road.

Hammond said she appreciated the addition of the walkway and suggested adding trees to “break up the asphalt.”

Hammond also suggested moving the dumpsters so they are not visible from the street, perhaps talking to the bakery about using their access for a truck to empty the complex’s trash.

Helen Halloran, owner of the Concord Flower Shop across the street from the proposed development, said language in the proposal was “disingenuous” to justify the need for parking relief.

The proposal states that some residents and restaurant employees may not have cars, and designated resident spaces could be used. 

“It’s ridiculous to say restaurant employees may not have cars,” said Halloran. “You’re making up things to justify less parking. It’s guesswork. It’s not reality. If there isn’t enough parking, the plan is too big.”

Falwell said parking is an issue “all over town.”

Jean Easterday, a Maple Street resident, said the plan to use parking at Rideout Field was not safe as the small parking area is not lit at night and would be hazardous.

The WCAC will draft a list of its concerns and forward them to Hughes before the next Planning Board meeting.

Participants in the virtual meeting said finding information about the proposal was hard, only finding out about it by word of mouth at the last minute.

Hughes said the town website has a “Notify me” button on the home page which alerts residents about upcoming board meetings and agendas.

The next WCAC meeting is Aug. 9.