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Bernardston Dunkin’ Donuts hearing postponed

xA special permit to add a Dunkin’ Donuts to the Church Street Sunoco station in Bernardston, owned by the A.R. Sandri Co., was unanimously approved Tuesday by the Zoning Board of Appeals. Recorder/David Rainville

xA special permit to add a Dunkin’ Donuts to the Church Street Sunoco station in Bernardston, owned by the A.R. Sandri Co., was unanimously approved Tuesday by the Zoning Board of Appeals. Recorder/David Rainville Purchase photo reprints »

BERNARDSTON — A public hearing on a proposal to bring a Dunkin’ Donuts to town was postponed due to possible conflicts of interest on the Zoning Board of Appeals.

The hearing was rescheduled to 7 p.m. May 15 in Town Hall.

More than 30 residents turned out for the Thursday public hearing, but the applicant, the AR Sandri Co., decided to postpone the meeting, because only four members of the five-member zoning board were present.

Board members Daniel Devine and Russell Deane had to recuse themselves from the matter, because their properties abut the Church Street Sunoco station where Sandri hopes to open the doughnut shop. Two alternate members were brought in, but full-member Gary Cote was not able to make it.

Sandri’s plans need four affirmative votes to receive a zoning variance to bring the doughnut shop to its Church Street Sunoco station. With the board short one member Thursday, the company decided to put the hearing on hold, though Sandri could have taken its chances with four members present.

While some residents came to speak out against the proposal, others welcome a Dunkin’ Donuts to their small town.

“I think a Dunkin’ Donuts would help bring more people to town,” said Eileen Ovitt. She said she takes the trip to Greenfield when she wants Dunkin’s coffee, and guessed that many others do as well.

“I think it would help the town,” said Jeannie Sulda.

When Sandri first brought its plans to town last year, some opponents said it could draw customers away from nearby businesses. Some of those who came to speak against the shop Thursday weren’t so sure.

“There are pros and cons,” said Thomas Newton. “The (7 South) Bakery has its own niche, I don’t think that will change. It’s a coin toss with (the Country Corner Store) next door. They may lose business on coffee and doughnuts, but people (who stop at Dunkin’ Donuts) may say ‘oh, I need a pack of cigarettes or a sandwich,’ and stop by. It might help the country store’s business.”

Newton said his issue isn’t one of commerce, it’s one of logistics.

“The area is already congested, and this will bring more traffic,” he said. “You already can’t see when you pull out of the street next to the station. One of these days, there’s going to be an accident, and it will be a bad one.”

Zoning Board of Appeals clerk Jack Patch said most of the written and verbal responses the board has received were against the plans, with traffic concerns cited repeatedly.

The doughnut shop is expected to draw between 2,500 and 3,000 customers weekly, according to Michael Behn, Sandri’s chief operating officer. Behn said it could benefit Bernardston because the town would collect its 0.75 percent meals tax on each order.

The gas station’s future may depend on leasing a portion of it for a Dunkin’ Donuts or other business, said Behn. He said gas prices don’t allow enough of a markup to make a stand-alone gas station profitable.

While Sandri’s plans are still up in the air, they have twice brought up issues with town government. Members of the ZBA said Thursday that they may want to consider finding a third alternate, to make things easier when members have to recuse themselves. With Devine and Deane both involved in downtown properties, it could happen again, they said.

An issue brought up last year has since been rectified.

Last year, plans were withdrawn when it was found that the town’s zoning laws technically didn’t allow take-out service, though several nearby businesses have provided it for years.

The zoning laws were rewritten to allow take-out service, and approved by a special town meeting.

In the meantime, Sandri also scaled back the appearance of the building. The doughnut chain’s iconic orange-and-purple sign will be placed below the roofline instead of above it, and the large road sign they originally sought has been replaced with a smaller, “goal-post” style sign.

You can reach David Rainville at: drainville@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 279 on Twitter: @RecorderRain

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