Starbuck's permit granted

MANCHESTER - The Development Review Board has approved a change of use permit for a Starbucks coffee house at the Equinox Square Plaza on Depot Street. When it opens, the proposed Starbucks will be the first of the international chain to open in southern Vermont.

Peter Keelan, principal partner in Equinox Square Partners, said that the location, which used to house a branch of the former Factory Point National Bank and later a Berkshire Bank, and was until recently occupied by the Take Five daycare facility, is a perfect fit for a Starbucks. He said the addition of this cafe will be beneficial to Manchester's economy overall.

"With technology and the way it is now, we'll [Manchester's Starbucks] pop up on a lot of navigation systems, iPhones," he said. "People that are headed to Stratton or other places to ski that normally overlook will pull a lot of people in town."

In an email, Keelan said that Starbucks will also provide good jobs with benefits in the Manchester area. He also mentioned that visitors coming for Starbucks will also stop at other locations town, spending money at locally owned businesses.

"Manchester made the decision 30 years ago to set itself apart as a destination outlet center and having a Starbucks in town only makes it a more desirable location for visitors and shoppers, which are becoming scarcer by the year because of the competition from Internet shopping and the development of new outlet centers in between Manchester and the metro New York and Boston areas," he said in an email.

Alison Hopkins, director of planning and zoning administrator said the application was approved by a 5-2 split, with two members of the DRB, Alan Benoit and John Ringwood dissenting on the approval. The approval of the application includes a parking waiver, requested by the developers, Equinox Square Associates, which reduced the 50 required parking spaces to 10 spaces.

"The key zoning issue pertaining to the change of use is was agreed that with the overall number of spaces available at this site, links to the public sidewalk system, in conjunction with the parking waiver provision, emphasis on "effective parking" and mix use of peak hours at the sire, this matter is satisfied," the written decision states.

This location has a drive thru that can queue eight to 10 cars at a time, as well as peak hours from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., before the retail stores open in that location, helping to lessen the need for more parking spaces, the findings state.

The decision to grant the permit for the Starbucks coffee house was not universally welcomed the following Monday, April 21, when the town's planning commission held its regular meeting.

The planners took time to examine changing and updating the definition of restaurants and restaurant fast food. Bill Drunsic, chair of the planning commission, said that the fast food definition was historically put into place after McDonald's came into Manchester. It was written with intentionally large parking require ments to try and keep these establishments out of town.

He said The Development Review Board, referring to the Starbucks' parking waiver, has been interpreting the current fast food definition, specifically in regards to parking, far too flexibly.

"What's happening today, unfortunately...the Development Review Board, we in changing parking regulations in the not so distant past, gave the Development Review Board more flexibility on meeting parking requirements," he said. "And lately the Development Review Board has chosen to, one might say, used a lot of flexibility in interpreting the current fast food definition."

This is not the first time Drunsic has vented this frustration with parking waivers and the fast food definition. During the Jan. 8 Starbucks presentation in front of the Development Review Board, Drunsic, identifying himself as the planning commission chair and owner of Spiral Press cafe said the bylaw was very clear in how fast food - and the parking it requires - was designed.

"It was put into the bylaws because this town decided it did not want to promote fast food establishments and drive thrus," he said. "I don't think you have the flexibility to give waivers, like the parking waiver to allow a fast food establishment."

Drunsic asked Hopkins if his statement was fair, and she said there is a waiver section in the zoning bylaws and the Development Review Board reviewed and applied it correctly. She said the Development Review Board said they have asked for more criteria or more specific criteria to apply to these waivers.

There is no date set as of now for the new coffee shop to open, but Keelan said the goal is to get it opened as soon as possible.


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