WOBURN - Leery South End abutters joined with Ward 2 Alderman Richard Gately in challenging CVS Pharmacy's proposed leasing takeover of its largest competitor's retail outlet by Main and Fowle Streets.
During a recent gathering in City Hall, CVS officials insisted that its planned move to Walgreen's Pharmacy's current 15,028 square foot storefront at 175 Main St. would have a negligible impact to area traffic and the neighborhood's general quality-of-life.
However, Gately and Fowle Street abutters, wary of the national pharmacy chain's request to add a drive-through lane and thereby alter trucking traffic patterns, in turn disputed each of those contentions.
"A drive-through isn't ben allowed. The building is deplorable and hasn't been maintained over the years…I have no taste for this in the area right now," said the Ward 2 alderman, following a presentation by the petitioner's civil engineer and traffic consultant.
"There's a whole bunch of issues down there," Gately continued. "Putting that drive-through in will take a way a lane and make trucks bob and weave to get out of there. And they [even get out of there] now anyway."
Following the introductory hearing, the aldermen made no major decisions regarding the petition. Ultimately, the elected officials voted unanimously to continue the public hearing and to refer the matter to its Special Permits Committee for further review.
CVS Pharmacy plan
Last month, TMC New England LLC submitted the special permit application to move into the Walgreen's space at the end of 2019, when the existing tenant's lease will expire. The Main Street shopping plaza, comprising roughly 3-acres of space, is situated by the corner of Fowle Street and also includes a second retail building with an AutoZone and Busa Wine and Liquors store.
According to civil engineer Brian Dunden, whose RJ O'Connell and Associates firm is representing CVS, his client plans to demolish a small building spur off the retail store, situated to the rear of the property, which contains roughly 500 square feet.
"This allows us to construct the drive-through around the building with unimpeded access," explained Dunden, who indicated the drive-through would run along the AutoZone side of the building.
The drive-through lane would ultimately be able to accommodate a vehicle queue of up to five customers, while the existing loading dock area would be turned into a loading bay. Dunden also outlined a series of new internal parking lot walkways, aimed at bettering pedestrian access to Fowle and Main Street, as well as the addition of new traffic control signs and markings.
The site's four driveways from Fowle Street, Main Street, and Richardson Street Extension would all remain active under the proposal.
Later during the council presentation, Giles Ham, a traffic expert from Vanasse & Associates, contended the change in pharmacies would add roughly 230 peak hour trips to Main and Fowle Streets, an increase he described as "negligible".
According to Ham, roughly 1,000 motorists travel down the South End portion of Main Street during the busy morning and afternoon rush-hours.
To mitigate those effects, Ham's firm is proposing an upgrade of the traffic signal controls by Main and Fowle Street, as well as other internal site controls in order to discourage motorists from using the pharmacy parking lot as a cut-through.
"CVS itself will generate about 230 new trips to the area. 20 will be during the morning peak hours and 22 will be in the weekday evening and Saturday peak hours," said Ham. "These are probably conservative estimates, considering how all we're doing is changing pharmacies and adding a drive-through. It's not going to add a lot of traffic."
Cut-through and trucking traffic
According to Alderman at-large Robert Ferullo Jr., he believes the petitioner should consider adding traffic islands or other deterrents into the parking area in order to discourage motorists from using the shopping plaza lot as a cut-through.
Specifically, the former police chief recalled a re-occuring problem in the South End where motorists, hoping to avoid traffic light backups by the intersection of Main and Fowle Streets, pulled into the private lot to dart part that signal.
"There was an issue where if you're going north on Main Street, you can use the parking lot to get to Fowle Street and avoid the light. You've done some great islands to make that [more difficult] to do that. [I'd prefer] if you could do some more stuff like that," said Ferullo.
Other neighborhood abutters, also worried about that cut-through trend, also criticized CVS' plans to have trucking traffic utilize Fowle Street by the Gill building as a loading dock exit point.
According to Fowle Street resident Brian Dunden, who lives almost directly across from the Walgreen's building, the narrow entryway past the Gill building is not appropriate for tractor-trailers. He also contended that Fowle Street itself, where area residents and business customers tend to park on both sides of the roadway, isn't designed to handle truck-turning movements.
"That will encourage all the trucks from AutoZone and Busa Liquors to exit there too. And there's already a sign there that says trucks aren't supposed to exit thought there in the first place," he said. "I'm not against CVS. I'm against the traffic flow. They want to put a loading dock right there on the side of the building facing my house."
Boston resident John Smiroldo, who owns the former Patrick J. Gill and Sons building off of Fowle Street, also objected to the trucking circulation plans.
According to Smiroldo, by turning the roadway into a de-facto one-way exit, he might have to reconfigure a large portion of his property's parking area, which is designed to accommodate visitors pulling into the access way from Fowle Street.
Smiroldo subsequently suggested the trucks instead be encouraged to exit the site from Richardson Lane extension or onto Main Street to prevent potential conflicts with operations on his property.
"If you start funneling cars out onto Fowle Street…I think it's unsafe," said the Gill building owner. "If they turn it into a one-way going past Fowle Street, I'll lose possible one or two spaces rest ripping my parking lot. That's potentially losing 20 percent of [our spaces]."
Dunden later insisted that civil engineers had taken into account the Gill building in their site circulation plans.
Specifically, CVS Pharmacy wants to keep the Fowle Street driveway open to two-way traffic to accommodate the Gill building parking area, but will post 'Do Not Enter' signs by the narrowest point of the access way to discourage cut-through traffic.
"It will be a two-way access, but the intent is to benefit the business at 9 Fowle which have parking on both sides of that driveway," said the RJ O'Connell representative. "Once you get to the corner of where the Walgreen's building is closest to the Gill building, there would be a 'Do Not Enter' sign. So it would be one-way to exit and you would not be able to come in to cut-through [to avoid the signal at Fowle and Main Street]."