Cumberland Farms rendering

A rendering of a proposed Cumberland Farms, which was denied by the town. The developer appealed the denial last week.

LINCOLN — The Zoning Board of Appeals voted last week to uphold the Planning Board’s recent decision to deny an application for a proposed Cumberland Farms and Arby’s drive-thru in Lincoln.

The development, proposed for the corner of George Washington Highway and Blackstone Valley Place, was given a thumbs-down by the Planning Board in August.

The applicant opted to appeal that decision, prompting the Zoning Board to meet on Oct. 28 in its capacity as the board of appeals.

Chairman David DeAngelis laid the ground rules for the meeting, reminding members on multiple occasions that their role was not to re-hear the application. There would be no new testimony, nor an opportunity for the public to weigh in.

Instead, he and Town Solicitor Tony DeSisto said the board should determine whether there was a lack of support for the denial based on the weight of the evidence in the record, or a clear error made during the Planning Board process.

Ultimately, they would have to decide whether to reverse or affirm the Planning Board’s denial.

Given an opportunity to address the board, attorney Joelle Rocha, representing the applicant, noted that the convenience store and quick-service restaurant are allowed uses for the zone, and that only the gas station would need a special use permit.

She also argued that the applicant went above and beyond for the master plan application, submitting a traffic study and supplemental report on traffic. DeAngelis stopped Rocha, asking “how relevant” the traffic data is due to “the anomaly of COVID.”

Rocha said that issue is being experienced on applications statewide, but that they used several sources to consider pandemic-related dips in traffic, including cellphone data.

DeAngelis also asked whether public testimony was considered, noting that neighbors know better than most the daily traffic patterns. Rocha countered that public testimony does not override expert testimony.

She argued that the Planning Board offered only a few grounds for denial, including traffic and the development “not fitting in the area,” but there was little evidence to support that decision.

Further, she said the Planning Board was inconsistent. The board initially agreed to send the application to the Zoning Board for a special use permit, and in doing so “found it consistent with the comprehensive plan.” Later, as part of the denial, the board said the application was not consistent.

“I think that’s highly problematic,” she said.

Town Planner Al Ranaldi said the Planning Board’s Technical Review subcommittee didn’t find any technical issues with the application, but that the subcommittee doesn’t usually have the benefit of hearing from the public.

Another issue raised at past meetings was the “sweep” of headlights leaving the property and disturbing the residences across the street. Rocha said the developer was open to talking with neighbors about ways to mitigate the impact.

Overall, Rocha argued on behalf of Cumberland Farms that the Planning Board’s decision to deny wasn’t backed by much evidence, but by “conclusionary statements with no support.”

Ranaldi noted that 11 people testified about the project, with eight worried about changes to the area and about six concerned about traffic.

Before the Zoning Board voted on the matter, DeSisto warned members not to substitute their own judgement, or to vote based on what they would have done as a Planning Board member. He conceded that the process of appealing was a bit confusing, and said he couldn’t think of any appeals heard by the Zoning Board in at least a decade.

Ultimately, DeAngelis presented the motion to “affirm the Planning Board’s decision,” based on the fact that the denial was made after considering both submitted records and heard testimony.

“Corporations may have the ability to fund traffic studies, but citizens coming out of their daily routines to speak up about their concerns is evidence enough that they’re concerned about changes to the neighborhood,” he said. “I feel as though the folks who came out to provide testimony on how this will negatively impact the environment should be considered.”

He cited a few examples of Lincoln residents who testified against the project and their reasons for doing so, which included increased noise, traffic and pollution and a loss of open space.

His motion was seconded by Lori Lyle. Only one member, Charlie Ruggerio, voted against upholding the Planning Board’s decision. Before voting, Ruggerio asked whether they could remand back to the Planning Board for more specific findings, should they find the decision needed more clarity. The answer was no.

The developer may now choose to appeal to the Superior Court.

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