WOBURN - The City Council lifted a special permit restriction that forbid the sale of food items from the drive-through lane of the Dunkin' Donuts store at the South End's McSheffery's Mobil Station.
During a gathering in City Hall earlier this month, the aldermen unanimously endorsed a proposal by Woburn businessman Robert McSheffrey to allow full menu sales from the drive-through lane at 75 Main Street, where there is enough room for a 12-vehicle stack in the ordering queue.
To ensure the removal of the sales restriction doesn't cause problems, the council at the request of neighborhood Alderman Richard Gately stipulated its Special Permits Committee will review the Dunkin' Donuts store operations in six-months.
"This area is in my ward and I go there four to five times a day. I've never seen any problems down there whatsoever," said Gately, whose Ward 2 district includes the South End gas station. "We can throw a six-month [review] period on our approval, and if we see new complaints, [we can revisit this matter]."
The approval further allows the new sale of up to three used cars from the premises, which includes a self-service gas station with six pumps, a 3,000 square foot convenience store, and the 1,000 square foot Dunkin' Donuts location.
Found in the heart of Woburn's South End by Bill & Bob's Roast Beef, the 1.3-acre property is situated directly across the street from a residential neighborhood by Stoddard and Wiley Streets. According to local attorney Joseph Tarby, representing the petitioner, the City Council imposed the limited-menu restriction on his client back in 2006 due to concerns expressed by area abutters about traffic backups onto Main Street. At the time, there were few other Dunkin' Donuts in Woburn.
Noting that the community is now peppered with a myriad of Dunkin' Donut stores — there are at least 11 franchises in Woburn — the Murtha Cullina lawyer argued that McSheffery's operation has never been a problem since opening.
"I think if you drive-through on Main Street in the morning, if there is a queue [of customers in the drive-through lane], you'll always see Mr. McSheffrey out there keeping people from coming onto the premises," said Tarby.
Members of the council wholeheartedly agreed with that characterization of the local businessman's oversight of the gas station.
According to Ward 5 Alderman Darlene Mercer-Bruen, not only has she never observed a backup from the South End drive-through onto Main Street, she considers the South End property as one of the best-managed in the city.
"I've never, in all the years since this permit has been granted, seen that whole queue used. I've often times gone through there and thought it's a shame they can't [sell breakfast sandwiches and other food items]," she said. "It's one of the cleanest facilities in the city and should be held up as an example of how these things should run."
During the public hearing, Wiley Street residents James and Catherine Cosgrave challenged the notion that the Dunkin' Donuts drive-through functions without issue.
The couple submitted photographs that they described as showing drive-through customers idling right next to an abutting house, which sits right next to the entrance off of Main Street into the site. The parking area does include striping to discourage customers from parking their cars of waiting in line by that dwelling, but both neighborhood residents insisted those markings and signage are ignored.
James Cosgrave also complained that Dunkin' Donuts customers often form two-lanes while trying to make their coffee orders, while his wife suggested that the entire site is often plagued by vehicular congestion and confusion.
"Mr. McSheffery is out there every morning whirling people around. It's mass confusion down there. You have cars idling everywhere," said Catherine Cosgrave.
In the wake of those comments, Mercer-Bruen pointed out that since the council issued the special permit for the Dunkin' Donuts in 2006, the aldermen have not received a single complaint about the business.
Gately also described McSheffery as one of the most responsive business owners he's ever encountered.
"One morning, I got up and saw some rubbish in the wetlands by there. I mentioned it to him, and two days later, it was all gone," he said.
In an attempt to assure the abutters their concerns were not being ignored, Alderman at-large Michael Concannon agreed that no vehicles should be idling by the abutting residence. Promising the South End residents that the council would act if those problems got worse, he advised McSheffrey to take note of the complaint.
"That's something the petitioner should address. I'm asking him to pay attention to that."