FOXBORO — On the heels of a lengthy and at times testy public hearing Tuesday night, a pared-down board of selectmen agreed to wait two weeks before deciding on a permit allowing the former fire station property to be used for private use.
With that in mind, selectmen David Feldman, Chris Mitchell and Edward O’Leary (board members Mark Elfman and Leah Gibson having recused themselves on the matter) continued Tuesday’s hearing to Aug. 20 at 7:10 p.m., at which time a final ruling is expected.
If granted, the so-called “municipal conversion permit” would enable Douglas King Builders Inc. of North Easton to pursue plans for redeveloping the old fire station as a brewpub while replacing the former Keating Funeral Home with a 15-unit apartment building.
Four addition studio apartments would be located on the second floor of the fire station, bring to 19 the total of one-bedroom units.
Area residents asked selectmen to either deny or condition the conversion permit to restrict density and reduce anticipated traffic and parking impacts – which have emerged as primary lightning rods for opposition to the mixed-use project.
Most of these residents have articulated similar concerns during a recent series of “working sessions” convened by the planning board to elicit feedback and help fine tune the proposal – and which triggered significant design changes to the apartment building’s exterior.
Alison Bancroft, whose home at the corner of Market and Rockhill streets sits directly opposite the proposed apartment building, asked selectmen to deny the permit outright, saying the proposal did not include a traffic study as required.
Bancroft acknowledged that current plans conform to zoning in the downtown area, but under the circumstances suggested board members have a duty to exceed minimum requirements.
Bancroft also suggested project plans misrepresent what actually can be constructed on the half-acre site – arguing that the true dimensions are more restrictive.
“I don’t believe they are going to be able to construct the residential building as drawn,” she said.
Linda Shea, who also lives on Market Street, read into the record a formal letter to board members reiterating her fears about compounding traffic and parking conditions already exacerbated by scheduled events at the nearby Orpheum Theater.
Shea also asked selectmen to limit the proposed apartment building to 40 feet in height.
And in the course of a lengthy, rambling statement to the board, Joseph Foley of Union Street called the brewpub proposal out of character with the neighborhood, saying it would only worsen existing traffic speeds and volume.
William Buckley Jr. of Bay Colony Group, the local engineering firm hired by King Builders, said the proposal was developed following a careful review of the bid documents, zoning bylaws and prior studies prepared for the town.
Buckley said his client will have spent more than $1 million on the project even before the start of construction. These up-front costs include a $400,000 bid to acquire the town-owned property, an estimated $300,000 in environmental remediation to the old firehouse, a $150,000 fee to connect to the town sewer system and another $150,000 in engineering, architectural and legal expense.
These, on top of construction costs, have essentially defined the project’s scope, he pointed out.
“The residential component, in my opinion, drives the train,” Buckley said. “We wouldn’t have done this for a lesser density. The last thing anyone wants is a project that’s not [economically] viable.”
King attended Tuesday night’s hearing along with Buckley but did not speak.
Beyond plans to develop a 14-space parking lot on Market Street property currently owned by the Foxboro Housing Authority, Town Manager William Keegan asserted that both public and private parking opportunities exist in the downtown area which can be leveraged to address perceived shortfalls – especially during the evening hours.
Keegan added these types of challenges indicate town officials have made progress in creating investment opportunities in downtown Foxboro.
While declaring himself pleased at progress made thus far, Selectman David Feldman voiced his own concerns about the project’s impact on both parking and traffic.
“We have more to do – there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “And I don’t think it is incumbent on the developer to resolve [all of these issues] himself. We have to do that collectively.”
During a subsequent exchange, Feldman and Buckley agreed to widen an ongoing review of downtown traffic already commissioned by the town to include projected impacts from the fire station/funeral home project.
If granted by the board on Aug. 20, the conversion permit would be the first of several regulatory hurdles needed for the project to move forward. In addition, the project requires a separate special permit from the Planning Board, as well as an array of permits from the town building and inspections department.
King in May was chosen by a 2-1 vote to redevelop the half-acre property in conformance with the town’s vision of a mixed-use project embracing both a restaurant and residential use on the site.
At that time, Feldman and Mitchell supported King’s proposal with O’Leary dissenting. Then as now, Elfman and Gibson recused themselves.
The plans call for a brewpub operated by Shovel Town Brewery to be located in the old firehouse, along with 19 market-rate apartments and 26 on-site parking spaces. Four of those apartments would be located on the second floor of the former fire station and 15 more in a separate building to be located on the funeral home footprint.
The abandoned funeral home, seized by the town years ago for non-payment of taxes, would be razed, along with a rear addition to the fire station.