BURLINGTON – National Development recently gained the Planning Board’s support on several petitions pertaining to renovations at the AMC Burlington Cinema and the construction of a restaurant in the lower parking lot behind Chili’s.
The property owner of the two parcels in question (15 and 20 South Ave.), National Development, proposed to perform significant upgrades to the movie theater, including investing $5M to update and improve its seating, concessions and overall aesthetic features.
The cinema, which is located on 20 South Ave., currently has 2,400 seats, but the proposed renovations would eliminate just over 1,400 seats, leaving the desired seat total to 990. The idea is to provide luxurious theater seats consisting of 23-inch-wide individual recliners and 54-inch-wide love seats for couples.
“They are looking to have smaller theaters where there is more space and larger seats,” said Attorney Mark Vaughan of the local firm Riemer & Braunstein, representing National Development, noting there will be the same amount of theaters in the cinema. “The intent is to make some significant investments into the cinema, but keep the four corners of the building as is.”
There will be minimal exterior changes to the cinema as the interior is the focal point in this proposal.
After plenty of back and forth, the board approved a site plan that will see National Development put in a restaurant at 15 South Ave., which is known as the cinema’s lower/overflow parking lot that sits behind Chili’s and Barnes & Noble.
The combination of seats at the proposed restaurant and cinema would equal over a 1,000 less seats than what the current capacity is just at the cinema today (2,400 seats).
“With reduced seating at the theater and the addition of a 294-seat restaurant, it will still be an overall reduction from the 2,400 seats that exist today just at the cinema,” said Vaughan.
Both South Avenue sites would contain a total of 648 parking spaces (330 – cinema, 315 – restaurant) and it was affirmed the proposed restaurant site would have a reduction in parking spaces by 15 compared to what’s there today.
There is a “robust landscaping plan” proposed as part of the restaurant’s site plan which includes less impervious spaces, more trees, landscaping and a vegetative buffer for the wetlands that exist on the 15 South Ave. parcel. The site plan calls for an increase of about a ½ an acre of green space.
New walkways for South Avenue are being proposed in the restaurant’s site plan, including a new pedestrian, handicap accessible crosswalk across South Avenue towards Middlesex Turnpike. In the site plan, there will be two sidewalks constructed from the far right portion of the lower level parking lot (the right side of the connector road) with one running along South Avenue and the other along the radius of where the connector road would be that will lead directly to the restaurant.
“This would provide a full sidewalk that goes all the way up to South Avenue from Middlesex Turnpike,” said Vaughan, noting this initiative is part of a MassWorks grant. “We feel that these sidewalks will significantly improve mobility through the site.”
As has been the case at each board meeting when the site plan has been discussed, the top issue facing the restaurant proposal pertained to whether or not National Development is taking into consideration the possible addition of an access/connector road that would run from the former Dodge site (90 Middlesex Turnpike), behind Barnes & Noble and Chili’s, through the proposed restaurant on 15 South Ave. and ultimately on to South Avenue.
The access road is something the board is a strong proponent of, which is why they want the applicant to have the site arranged so that the opportunity is there to put it in if the initiative ever comes to fruition.
Vaughan affirmed the location of the proposed restaurant takes the potential construction of an access road into consideration.
“We are deliberately sighting this building in a manner that allows for a future connection of South Avenue down Middlesex Turnpike, if that is indeed built,” he told the board. “We went through a pretty significant effort on our part, in terms of the overall design of the site to make sure and guarantee the (access) road could be accommodated for in the future.”
He noted the site plan has been designed so the restaurant is “deliberately” placed in a way that there is ample room for the access road.
National Development had been working with the subcommittee and Planning Staff about the board granting a future right-of-way easement through the 15 South Ave. property that would allow for the connector road to be built.
Per the board’s request, National Development agreed to move forward with an easement without a timeframe. The proponents originally wanted a “sunset provision” incorporated in the easement, which would have seen the easement expire in 20 years if the road didn’t come to fruition by then. Not having a timeframe on the easement was essentially the only way National Development was going to get the board’s approval on the site plan.
The board was pleased to see the proponents adhered to this type of easement without a timeframe.
Board member Paul Roth thoroughly explained what is entailed in the easement.
“The town can abandon the easement, or will abandon it if there is no likelihood or possibility of it happening,” he said. “Otherwise, (National Development) is going to get a road there and it’s going to benefit (15 South Ave.) and it’s going to be a huge mitigation of Middlesex Turnpike that will deliver customers to your door and the cinema right off of (I-95).”
When asked what type of restaurant may be occupying the proposed parcel, Vaughan stated it will most likely be a family style, full-service dining establishment. He did not reveal a restaurant name.
The Planning Board approved one minor engineering change and the 15 South Ave. site plan by a 6-0-1 vote (Vice Chairman Jack Kelly abstained) and another minor engineering change was approved unanimously.
However, a special permit petition was continued to the March 6 board meeting because National Development hasn’t named a restaurant operator yet.