The Greenfield Planning Board had their regular monthly meeting this past Thursday:

The major topics on the agenda for this meeting were a site plan review for the new Starbucks going into the Friendly’s location off the traffic circle and deliberation on the same, as well as six proposed amendments to the city’s zoning ordinance.

One of these amendments was a proposed change to the Major Development Review process initiated by a citizens’ petition. The MDR currently kicks in if a proposed development will generate more than 3000 amendment would lower the

The MDR thing

I was going to save this for later in the post, but we’re going to need to take a bit of a detour here to talk about the Major Development Review process. Most of the rest of this meeting won’t make much sense otherwise.

Section 200-50 of Greenfield’s zoning ordinance lays out the Major Development Review (MDR) process:

The purpose of this section is to identify and attempt to mitigate potential negative impacts to the City of Greenfield, such as to City services, traffic patterns, the environment, abutting properties, or the public health and safety, caused directly or indirectly by major development.

The first of the four criteria that can trigger an MDR is:

All new uses as defined by the Greenfield Zoning Ordinance that generate 3,000 vehicle trips per day or more in the General Commercial District, and/or 1,500 vehicle trips per day in any other district.

Once the MDR is triggered, the project submitter has to provide more details and due diligence about their proposed project, they can be held to more rigorous standards for impact mitigation, and the Planning Board (and, by extension, Greenfield residents) have more power to question and challenge the project.

So, some backstory here…

If you cast your mind back to March of 2019, the City Council was deciding whether or not to approve the acceptance of the state grant that would fund a significant portion of the new library. The library had majority support on the Council but not the super-majority required to approve the necessary level of spending.

Then City Council President Rudy Renaud negotiated a deal with Isaac Mass, who was an At-large councilor at the time and de facto leader of the Council’s conservative minority. Mass agreed to vote in favor of the library grant in exchange for a change to the MDR process. That change was that the number of daily car trips that would trigger the MDR would be raised from 1000 to 3000.

Having just come out of—and losing—some bruising battles over zoning changes along the French King Highway that would have allowed for more development on the north end of town, Mass was looking to reduce the regulatory hurdles for new developments. The Major Development Review process is one of those hurdles; increasing the number of estimated car trips for a new project from 1000 to 3000 would make it less likely that any new project would have to go through that process.

With the City Council facing a do-or-die vote on approving the library, Mass saw his opportunity and he took it. The Council voted to change the zoning ordinance, and then they voted to approve the new library. That is why our zoning ordinance now says 3000 car trips, not 1000. Local gadfly Al Norman—who had been heavily involved in opposing the French King Highway development plans—was extremely unhappy about this change at the time, and has remained so ever since.

So if you now flash-forward to last summer when the proposal for the new Aldi’s came before the Planning Board, the project did not qualify for a Major Development Review. Unable to do much about that, Norman and his supporters responded by submitting a citizens petition to amend the zoning ordinance and change the number of car trips from 3000 back down to 1000.

The Starbucks site plan review

If you are not already aware, Friendly’s has announced they will be shuttering their location at the intersection of Rt. 2 and Robbins Road by the traffic circle. Starbucks is planning to take over the space and wants to make minor alternations to the building and to the site.

This meeting included a presentation from Kimley-Horn, the planning and design consultant that Starbucks has engaged for the project. Project manager Caroline Armstrong from K-H walked the Planning Board through the high-level site plan and had Bob Scully on the line as well; he had put together the traffic statement required by the review process.

The plan seems relatively straightforward—cosmetic changes to the existing building, an addition of a landscaping island in the parking lot to better define the drive-through line, and general landscaping improvements around the site.

Most of the discussion centered—unsurprisingly—around the traffic statement provided by the submitter. Per that statement, they estimate an increase of less than 1000 car trips per day, bringing the total to around 2300 car trips per day. Because this project does not require an MDR, there is no traffic study here; there numbers are estimates based on general, nation-wide data and do not factor in any other changes in the area (like the new Aldi’s).

There was a general sense of concern and uncertainty among the members of the Planning Board—about the reliability and applicability of this data and the traffic estimate, the absence of a holistic view of the traffic impact, and the late arrival of the site plan and traffic statement.

There were also some discussion—prompted by a resident email—about the lack of any native species in the proposed landscaping improvements. There was no definitive conclusion to this topic.

Noting the limited means at their disposal to require greater oversight or mitigation of the Starbucks project—since it is an in-place improvement rather than a major development—the Planning Board decided unanimously to delay approval of the plan to give themselves more time to consider it.

The zoning amendments

The proposed amendments to Greenfield’s zoning ordinance that were up for deliberation at this meeting were:

All of these amendments received a unanimous positive recommendations from the Planning Board and will now move to the City Council for a final vote.

The only amendment that had any discussion was the proposal to change the Major Development Review (MDR) process. This amendment was also the topic that all of the public commenters were there to talk about (all were in support of the amendment).