PLAISTOW — The Planning Board supported the construction of a new Panera Bread location in Plaistow Road’s Stateline Plaza last night, but a number of conditions must be met before work can begin.
In a unanimous vote, the board said there must be a signed agreement from Haverhill officials for the restaurant to use city water and sewer services before any construction starts. Other conditions of the approval include satisfaction of state air and groundwater management concerns, state support for driveway changes on the site and a change to the site plan guaranteeing that all future development in the plaza comes before the Planning Board in Plaistow.
Because Plaistow doesn’t have municipal water or sewer services, the proposed restaurant must either use the services provided by a nearby line from Haverhill or through a newly installed water well and septic tank.
As discussions began last night, attorney Charles Cleary, representing property owner Northstar Centers, LLC, said a city water and sewer agreement already exists for the site.
Members of the board disagreed, however, and argued the point as Selectman Robert Gray, who sits on the board, referred to a letter from the city saying otherwise.
“There is no agreement between you two,” Gray said. “You have an agreement for them to provide water to the site, but you do not have an agreement with them to provide water specifically to Panera Bread.”
As the discussion moved forward, the idea of conditionally approving the project — saying yes to it, but requiring that other things be done before the building permit is issued — frequently dominated discussions.
Among those against conditional approval was Leigh Komornick, town planner. “My recommendation is that the board not conditionally approve it based on water and sewer, because there’s just too many things” to consider, she said.
Others, including Cleary, suggested that conditional approval was necessary because the city is another governmental entity with its own processes that don’t affect Plaistow.
“I realize Haverhill is a difficult city to deal with. That’s why I think it should be conditional approval,” Cleary said. “The Planning Board is going to find itself in difficulty with the set of issues in Haverhill and other state agencies. This is just going to get mired down because we don’t know how they act. We don’t know what they require. We’ll address them as the applicant. If we don’t get those various approvals, we can’t proceed — and we’re prepared for that.”
Another heavy topic of discussion was parking requirements. Attorney Geoffrey Dowd, representing nearby Heav’nly Donuts, argued that the plans would place too great a burden on the plaza’s parking needs.
“Would we allow an 88-seat cafe or restaurant in the parking lot at Wal-Mart or allow Sovereign (Bank) to be turned into an 88-seat restaurant?” he said. “This is going to create, I do firmly believe, one of the most overburdened lots in town.”
Dowd also suggested that the site could become an example of what to avoid in future planning projects.
“I also don’t want this to be a project that, five or 10 years down the road, the Planning Board sitting at the time looks back on a future project that comes along and says, ‘This looks like another Panera. We don’t want to do that again,’” he said.
Komornick responded by saying portions of the parking lot near the proposed Panera Bread location are frequently empty and serve as “a free for all” parking space for multiple businesses in the plaza.
“It’s not being used for anything. It’s a free for all,” she said. “It isn’t like that parking lot has been full out there.”
The board also required that a note be added to the site plan saying that all future development must be approved by the Planning Board. The requirement comes after another nearby restaurant on the site plan that is located in Haverhill, Grande México, was approved by Haverhill officials and built without any word coming Plaistow’s way. With the change, any work being done in Stateline Plaza falls within Plaistow’s jurisdiction and must come before Plaistow officials.