Friday, August 29, 2008
Planning Board considers Ferns expansion project
Peppered by questions on every aspect of his plan, on August 22 Larry Bearfield defended his proposed expansion of Ferns Country Store in front of the Planning Board. Over two late-night hours, the discussion delved into parking, lighting, appearance, grade changes and project timelines. In the end, the board identified only two areas of real concern: water runoff and traffic flow. The hearings will continue on September 8 after which the Planning Board will make a recommendation to the Board of Selectmen (BOS).
The BOS had made a decision to waive some items in Ferns’ site plan review application at a meeting the week before. In an effort to reduce the upfront cost of reports that might not be needed, the BOS had ruled that studies of traffic, water, development impact, hazardous materials management, and employee health, fire, and safety were not required with the application, but could be discussed and requested at a later date. Planning Board member Michael Epstein noted the town bylaws do not allow the BOS to make this decision without input from the Planning Board. “They shouldn’t have waived those items without consulting us,” said Epstein, but added that he agrees with the intent to “reduce expense to an applicant” who “provides a benefit to the town.”
Expands store and deli, adds beer and wine
Bearfield explained that his plans would include an addition linking the existing Ferns store to the former garage building (see plan on page 5 of the August 15 Mosquito.) An expanded grocery area would be in the addition, and beer and wine would be sold in the garage with a bottle/can return area in the side. The current store would be renovated and remain a deli and coffee area, with customer seating a long-term goal. A new location for freezers and coolers would be in back, and the main doors for entering and exiting would also be moved to the back of the store.
Other details emerged in the discussion. Parking will remain the same with 24 spaces. The handicapped van access will move to the back and accommodations will be made, including a chair lift inside the store. Privacy fencing will be added along the back. The Pathways Committee will join the pathway to the crosswalk with Ferns bricking over a small gravel area. Lighting will include under-lighted pots and hanging lamps over the doors as well as a light over the sign, but no parking lot lights. The basement area will remain under the store but the new area and the garage will be on slabs. A new HVAC system will be installed, most likely on the roof of the new area, and it was noted that this does not appear on the plans submitted to the Planning Board. Bearfield agreed to amend them.
Dining area still on hold
Bearfield reported that Ferns is still caught between the DEP and plumbing code on the addition of a public bathroom, without which the seating area will not be allowed. For the time being, he is proceeding with plans that do not include the bathroom and seating. He is looking into installing a Clivis recycling septic system. An employee bathroom is downstairs and several handwashing sinks are available. Spring water is brought in for coffee, rain barrels catch water for the plantings, and there is no dishwasher, so well usage is minimized.
Bearfield’s goal is to be ready for the holiday season during which 40% of beer and wine sales for the year take place. It is hoped the addition of alcohol will smooth out sales because “November, December, and January are our slowest months by far.” When the addition is complete, Ferns’ closing hours will be extended from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. Beer and wine will not be sold before 10 a.m. as dictated by Massachusetts law. During construction there will be “key times we will definitely shut down,” said Bearfield, but those will be few since part of the store can remain open while another area is under construction.
Water, traffic may be issues
Associate Planning Board member David Freedman noted the waiving of the water drainage report by the BOS is problematic because “This board doesn’t have the ability to assess drainage without getting someone who knows something about drainage.” But board member Brian Larson felt “I have not heard much that alarms me regarding excessive runoff or erosion control.” Bearfield said the proposed plan does not change runoff except for a graded area by the septic system and the addition of a roof. He purposely avoided paving so as not to incur the $3,000 to 4,000 cost of a drainage plan, and had been advised by his engineers, Stamsky and McNary, that water would not be an issue. It was suggested the Planning Board might be satisfied by a letter from the engineer.
Regarding parking and circulation, the board position was summarized by Epstein, “It is what it is. We all recognize there’s some dangerous backing out (in front of the store). It’s a concern.” He suggested looking at “simple solutions” that might mitigate the risk. Bearfield noted that access to the building from the back will encourage parking in the rear, which will be much safer. He suggested monitoring traffic issues over the first three months “and if there is a problem, we’ll deal with it.” The board asked Bearfield to submit letters from the Fire and Police Chiefs addressing the fire and traffic safety, and also asked that he contact the Traffic Safety Advisory Committee for any suggestions they might have.
A statement on screening for HVAC, storage, and other unsightly areas was requested, as well as details of maintenance for plantings and fencing. Board member Carol Nathan said that parking lot lights should be considered, especially given the later sales hours. Bearfield said he has avoided them out of deference to neighbors whose reaction to additional lighting would not be positive.
The hearing was continued to September 8 at 8:30 p.m. Board Chair Greg Peterson, who has had business dealings with Ferns, recused himself from the discussion which was chaired by Larson. The board has 35 days from the receipt of the application July 22 to render a decision, unless an extension is requested. ∆
© 2008 The