WOBURN - Hovey Street residents urged the council to reject a special permit that would facilitate Walgreens Pharmacy's bid to move into the heart of Woburn Center by opening an approximate 10,000 square foot retail store at the former Careway Wellness Center site.
During a recent council gathering in City Hall, local attorney Joseph Tarby, representing Norwood-based Arista Development, outlined his clients' plans to retrofit the medical supply company storefront at 506 Main St. for the national pharmacy retailer.
Situated by the edge of Woburn Center off of Main Street by Center Street, the non-conforming commercial buildings at 506 Main St. have frequently been the source of neighborhood friction, as the businesses are surrounded by residential neighbors on Hovey and Spring Streets.
Much of that conflict has centered around a lack of parking and commercial trucking activity on the substandard side streets. However, according to Tarby, many of those issues will likely be solved by the Walgreens proposal, as a parking lot will finally be established for the business.
"The proposed plans allow for the improvement of the front portion of the property. The existing building [in the rear] would be demolished and replaced with a 20-foot buffer area and parking lot," said Tarby, who explained retailed pharmacies are allowed by-right in the underlying business downtown (BD) zoning district.
Ultimately, the City Council referred the petition to its Special Permits Committee and continued the public hearing until its first meeting in September.
Under the proposed Woburn Center development, Walgreens, which will shutter its South End location at 175 Main St., intends to renovate the Main Street side of the property and create a new 23-space parking lot towards the rear side side of the half-acre parcel off of Hovey St.
In order to make room for that lot, the special permit applicant will raze an attached building structure on Hovey Street that previously housed hospital pharmaceutical provider Safecor Health.
Both Tarby and Phil Henry, the applicant's civil engineer, heralded the removal of that rear building, which has long been cited as a source of neighborhood complaints.
According to Henry, besides resulting in the creation of new landscaping buffer strips along the perimeter of the property, the removal of that rear building will also allow for new fencing by abutting Hovey Street homes. His client will also reportedly pay for the repaving of the residential side street.
"By demolishing that building in the back, the extent of the existing dimensional non-conformities [on the property] will be reduced by 86 percent. It will leave only a small section of the non-conforming structure" said Tarby.
"Currently, from what we observed, there are no stormwater controls there. In our proposed development, we are proposing to capture and treat the water before its released onto Hovey Street,' later remarked the civil engineer. "We feel this is addition by subtraction with all the site improvements as a whole."
Neighbors have a lengthy history of lodging complaints about the business uses at the site, as well as contesting proposed redevelopments at the property. Most recently, the City Council in Dec. of 2013 approved a zoning change that shifted the entire half-acre parcel into the business downtown (BD) district.
At the time, managers at 508 Main St. LLC pushed for the rezoning in order to facilitate a proposed mixed-use redevelopment at the rear of the site that would seat 21 apartments over the top of a 5,000 square foot commercial space. The proposal also would have included a 42-spot parking garage.
Prior to that council decision, the site was part of a split R4 and BD zoning district.
It's unclear why that project never broke ground.
Despite Arista Developments contention that the Walgreens proposal will solve many of neighborhood's woes, residential abutters remained unconvinced.
According to Hovey Street residents Marie McAllister and Jo-Ann Gorasi, the neighborhood already attracts a cast of suspicious characters, many of whom allegedly use the existing buildings' envelope away from Main Street to use drugs. They worried the addition of a drug store in the area will only encourage further loitering and perhaps lead to scenarios where the pharmacy or its customers will be robbed.
The neighbors also complained that the proposed parking lot includes two curb-cuts that are directly in-line with residential driveways, while trucking traffic will still be required to use the substandard Hovey Street to back into the proposed loading bay area by the rear parking area.
"I think it's an abomination to have a heavily-trafficked business put on a street that already can't handle what we have here now," said Gorasi. "This is not an appropriate use of the land."