Loophole the Size of a Drive-Thru

Elizabeth Seal of The Cranston Herald has written an informative piece on the way that a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru got approved at 480 Pontiac Avenue despite community opposition because of traffic concerns. From the article:

The neighbors of the gas station on the corner of Pontiac Avenue and Laurens Street are preparing a lawsuit after, unbeknownst to them, an application for a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through, which they thought had been killed in 2005, was approved after all.

The property, which had previously been abandoned and, neighbors say, had become a “dump,� was bought in 2005 and scheduled to become a Citgo gas station with a Dunkin’ Donuts inside the associated convenience store. Since the store building is set back from the rear of the property, there was room to install a drive-up window and the owner applied for permission to include one.

That irked many area residents, who already consider the Laurens/Pontiac intersection a magnet for accidents and near misses. Sue Pacheco, who lives on Pontiac kitty-corner to the gas station, said the Department of Transportation finally had to install a raised median to help control traffic. [full text]

The story goes on to explain that although there is a law on the book allowing citizens to appeal zoning issues within 20 days of notification about them, it is unclear what decision people can appeal, since traffic engineer decisions can’t be appealed, and the original zoning board decision was completed two years ago.

Dave Fergueson, the traffic engineer who first denied the drive-thru and now has approved it, says he welcomes discussion on this process. I wonder why Mr. Fergueson did not contact Susan Pacheco before he approved the drive-thru, since he was aware of community opposition to the project.

There needs to be a time-limited window for when revised plans can be resubmitted to the city. There should also be a mechanism for notifying the community of the resubmitted plan, so that people affected can be part of the decision-making process. I am confident our councilmember, Emilio Navarro, will help in reforming this process.

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7 responses

  1. We must be the laughing stock of all of Rhode Island. The process has been flawed, continues to remain inept and fails to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of what taxpayers pay for. It seems Councilman Navarro is working double time to correct some of the processing flaws. I wonder…if Mr. Ferguson and other Zoning Members were aware of such flawed processes, isn’t it conceivable that he could alert the Council to pass an ordinance protecting the neighbors? Maybe he or someone could have started this process in 2005. I find it sad that people become complacent with not making things work more proficient and have better safety nets.

    I totally support and applaud both Sue Pacheo and Emilio Navarro’s efforts! Thank you!

  2. The drive-through window at D&D is symptomatic of a broader problem – notification to residents of commercial development in their neighborhoods. This issue could well end up in seemingly endless litigation like another project just a little further down the road. And there’s no need for this.

    There’s a relatively simple fix for this type of problem going forward. Each month at the monthly city council meeting, the Building Official should report on each new permit application submitted by commercial interests. Action on such applications should be delayed until notification to the council. In those instances where the process continues over the months, a monthly progress report could be submitted to the council apprising each member and the public of the status of a given project.

    Such a process would address two situations. First, the elected representative of the affected area (and through that person, the neighbors/constituents) would be notified of projects that potentially impact property values and the possible diminution of the quality of life of Cranston citizens. Second, because of the requirement that the final approval of any commercial building application be delayed until the council is notified, there would be less of a chance that an application would be “expedited� by a building official to the detriment of neighbors who live near the proposed site.

    As for the instance where the Traffic Engineer (or for that matter, any other official) has the final say in determining whether a “stipulation� by the ZBR has been met, it would seem a simple matter to require the official to report his/her determination of compliance to the Building Official for reporting to the council at the monthly meeting. In such cases, no final approval would be rendered until the council was notified and had an opportunity to weigh in on the matter.

    I know that Emilio is interested in addressing the manner in which these things are done in our city. I wish him good luck. It amazes me how often some public officials (excepting Emilio) show up to “fight� for/against the “issue� de jure but rarely, if ever, offer suggestions about how we could avoid such fights in the future.

  3. Geoff,
    Great suggestions and I definitely agree with all you said. All of my neighbors found out about the proposed development at Mulligan’s after reading about it in the ProJo!

    I think that there are several processes in the City that should be reexamined because I would imagine (and it’s purely speculation since I don’t have concrete information in front of me) that many of the codes/policies/etc. on record are either outdated or obsolete.

    Another important thing to remember is that the Comprehensive Plan is being revised and segments of it are being discussed at Planning Board meetings. It is necessary that residents pay attention to this because if zoning is changed near their homes without their knowlege or feedback, then the entire landscape of our City could change.

  4. Did you ever think it may NOT be a bad idea to have a Dunkin Doughnut Drive thru?
    For years we have had Safety issues with Pontiac and Rolfe Street concerning Pedestrians, as well as Parking issues for businesses in that area. Dunkin Doughnuts has a good Business Reputation for the upkeep on their buildings and Products and my guess is most of you are Dunkin Drinkers. Instead of focusing all the energy of putting a damper on businesses in the area… I thought the idea was to welcome and increase local business in Cranston. Maybe the problem is in the area itself… maybe a facelift so to speak is in order?
    We have many issues here in Cranston. Instead of looking for a fight …why not look for a common ground. A new drive thru could be just the ticket for a local business. It may increase more population to the area and may make some business owners consider Rolfe Street area a good spot to set up shop.
    Protecting the neighbors? .. Is a Statement I read. What exactly do they need protection from?? … Could it be the Vandalism? Or maybe the gang related Graffiti written on the buildings? Or maybe the homeless walking and sleeping on the corners to keep warm and gets some food since the shelter is gone? Or the loose dogs that roam the streets? Or could it be the unplowed side walks and bus stops that our children have to crawl through just to get to school? …..Or is it the terrible drive thru that is going in on Pontiac ave.?
    I realize the city has Flaws.. I have had my fair share of dealings with the city. It just seems to me a lot of time and energy is wasted on, or fixated on someone’s mistake rather than finding a fair solution for everyone.

  5. Tracy, you bring an interesting slant. It may be true that in the end, it could be a good thing in for business and tax revenue. However, I know this is more than just an inconvenience or yet another reason to justify keeping the gloves on against the present administration. The Zoning & Building Dept. needs to have some serious overhaul and when a member of one of these Dept’s sees a potential problem (like this one was in 2005) then they should alert the council person to help facilitate and ensure this not happen again. But it is not that way. It has been pointed out over and over, the “process is flawed” and that is not against the law, BUT, it needs to be fixed. Aferall, this was known in 2005. Crispy Creme would have been the perfect spot for this, not next to the Bethany Lutheran Church.

  6. Why not the location where it is now? Explain to me why having a drive thru is such a problem there other than having heavy traffic (that we already have now) I really don’t see such a horrific problem.. I understand that this came about in 2005 but it is now 2007.. The past can’t be changed..But the future can..If there are so many faults in the zoning board why not concentrate making some sort of committee to monitor what permits come and go.. Committees are all volunteer..if people put as much time into debating problems that arise from years ago ..Why not put the time into making a change where it is truly needed

  7. Tracy, you basically stated the main reason the residents are against it, “..having heavy traffic”. Consider yourself lucky to not be a type A like me that sitting in poor planned traffic delays are anxiety ridden for most of us racing to work, dropping kids to school or trying to get out of Bethany Lutheran Church. Bottlenecking the roads with more cars on any congested street is not smart planning. If they chose the former Crispy Creme site which would have been a perfect resolution to the already admitted (in 2005) problematic scheme. Certainly property would be devalued for all those homes and businesses due to increased traffic that area. I am sure even a 100 cups of coffee would not offset your tax bill. As for bringingin business – these people are using a drive-thru and typically they won’t even get out of their cars for a cup of coffee – – they are going to just cause traffic and move on out. So I do not see the added bonus of those “drive-thru’ers” shopping in our other stores in the area to do business. I don’t mean to be curt, but I fail to read validity for tax revenue plus for the city. the City will also need to do repairs sooner, versus later, due to the heavier traffic flow on that street. And for those of us that are homeowners, our property tax is too high to have this shoved down our throats and expect us to take it quitely. At the very least, the abutters should have been privy to a public meeting. I disagree with the process, again, this should have been fixed by the City Council members or other building officials back then.

    Yes people stopped it then, but they didn’t fix it … hence the little green monster is here again. This is why I expend my time to see the change is finally taken, I do not feel I am fluffing feathers.

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