DRB recesses Starbucks hearing

MANCHESTER - The development review board recessed a hearing begun during its meeting Wednesday. Jan. 7, regarding a change of use permit being sought by Starbucks until more is known about the parking situation in Equinox Square Plaza.

This is the same shopping center where the new Subway is going to be located. An appeal was filed against Subway regarding the number of parking spaces it was allocated. On Dec. 20, 2013, the DRB decided to deny the appeal and Subway will be opened, pending the resolution of other appeals. Kirk Moore of BMA Architects made a presentation at the meeting Wednesday night and said the key issue for Starbucks right now and their change of use permit is parking, due to the coffee shop being classified as a fast food restaurant.

The developers of the Equinox Square Plaza are seeking an exemption for Starbucks from the zoning ordinance that requires fast food restaurants to meet a certain minimum number of parking spaces which is considerably higher than that required of restaurants not deemed "fast food."

"Because of the definition of fast food, we're not going to argue that it does not meet that definition," he said. "However, our position is it is more of in practicality, a retail coffee store, similar to many of the other stores."

The store will have a 20 seat internet cafe, service counter and drive through service, Moore said. If this space is permitted for retail use, only 13 parking spaces would be required. If permitted as a fast food restaurant, then there would be 50 parking spaces needed, he said.

"I'll just get right to is the parking, this isn't a unique use at all, we're looking to apply your ability to grant an exemption [which the board is about to do under Zoning Ordinance, section 8.4]," he said. "Based on looking at parking more in the perspective of it is effective, is it meeting the need and not building more parking where it's not needed."

Starbucks claims that because their store will be doing most of their business in the morning, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., the spaces can be "shared spaces" instead of allocated for specific stores. The retail stores in the Equinox Square Plaza open at 10 a.m.

The board wanted to know how many spaces were allocated to each store and see parking calculations for the lot. They raised the concern that Starbucks could take up all the spaces, leaving zero spaces for the storefronts that are currently empty.

The drive thru, Peter Keelan, one of the principal officers of Equinox Square Associates said, will be an added benefit, because it will free up more parking spaces. Because the drive thru will exit onto Center Hill, cars will not be able to circle back into the parking lot.

Bill Drunsic, the chairman of the planning commission and owner of Spiral Press Cafe, said the bylaw is very clear about how fast food is defined. "It was put into the bylaws because this town decided it did not want to promote fast food establishments and drive throughs," he said. "I don't think you have the flexibility to give waivers, like the parking waiver to allow a fast food establishment."

Peak times for coffee shops are not just in the morning. Spiral Press actually sees a jump in business in the early afternoon, Drunsic said. The hearing was recessed until the DRB's next meeting on Feb. 12, so Starbucks can present a more detailed parking plan to the board, including calculations.

In other business, The Garden Arts Fresh Market received board approval to move a parking space from the southeast corner of their property to the northeast corner.

A proposal to expand the footprint of the J Crew outlet by adding a 600 square-foot sales annex was also recessed until the DRB's Feb. 12 meeting.


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