Friday, March 5, 1999
Selectmen cast doubt on timing of bank project
The selectmen did not exactly roll out the red carpet to welcome North Middlesex Savings Bank, the new owner of the old Saint Irene Church property on Bedford Road, when the bank unveiled its plans at the selectmen's meeting on February 23. While no objections were expressed to the concept of a full-service bank in the town center, selectmen made it clear that the bank needed to sell the idea and design of the new bank to the town before any approval would be forthcoming from the board. "This town doesn't accept change easily," said selectman Michael Fitzgerald.
Bank senior vice-president and treasurer Tony O'Neill informed the selectmen that, in order to accommodate the church's needs, the bank had purchased the property for $230,000 before it had all building approvals in hand. The property is located in a general residence A district, and under the current bylaw, operation of a bank in this district is not specifically allowed. The bylaw review committee has proposed a new bylaw which would permit a bank, by special permit, with certain conditions intended to reduce any adverse impact on the neighborhood and abutters. The special permit could be granted for no more than five years, with the possibility of extension after the initial period expires.
O'Neill argued that five years is not long enough to justify the million-dollar investment the bank plans to make in the property. He added that the bank does not expect to break even until the fourth or fifth year of operation. Written materials submitted at the meeting also suggested that the bank is not unlike the post office in providing services people need, and the time limit could discourage other service providers from investing in Carlisle. O'Neill proposed that the board of appeals should be given discretion to grant a special permit for a longer time period, although he did not specify how long the bank would need.
Architectural plans for the new building showed that the bank wholeheartedly endorsed the bylaw conditions safeguarding the neighborhood, said O'Neill. The plans depict a 2,900-square foot building with a semicircular drive in front utilizing the existing two curb cuts. The septic system is now planned to be in front, and the building will be level with the septic grading so that the rear of the structure will have a walk-out lower level.
Noting that the town center is not only a commercial center but also a residential district, Fitzgerald asked, "How much work have you done in the neighborhood?" O'Neill responded that he had held informal conversations with some abutters and had tried to publicize the bank's plans in the newspaper. Fitzgerald indicated that there are still a number of hurdles the bank must overcome, including holding public hearings and talking to neighbors, to sell the idea to the community, and time may be running out. "We're just the first avenue of resistance," said Fitzgerald. "You have to sell this project on the floor at Town Meeting."
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito