By Alex Lippa
---- — PLAISTOW — The biggest hurdle in bringing Panera to Plaistow is about to be cleared.
The city of Haverhill, Mass., has reached an agreement with Stateline Plaza to provide water to the potential restaurant on Plaistow Road. The Plaistow Planning Board would not grant the 4,000-square-foot restaurant permission to break ground until plans for water and sewer were completed.
“We’ve been told there’s an agreement,” Plaistow Town Planner Leigh Komornick said. “They are planning to move forward.”
Ken Knowles, an engineer for Eaglebrook Engineering & Survey, came in front of the Plaistow Planning Board last week, representing Panera. The Panera would replace an empty Irving Gas Station close to Stateline Plaza.
Knowles said contractors are still bidding for the construction, but he would like to see the gas station be demolished soon.
“Hopefully, demolition would begin in the next few weeks,” he said.
Komornick said the town does not have the agreement in writing for Haverhill to provide the water. She expects to see that sometime this week.
Once the town receives the agreement, the work can begin.
“This is a pretty significant step forward,” Planning Board Chairman Steve Ranlett said. “They needed to have a septic design to go forward.”
Haverhill already provides water to other plaza tenants of Stateline Plaza. An agreement was reached last week.
“It wasn’t about whether we have a choice of providing it or not,” said Bob Ward, Haverhill’s deputy director of public works. “It’s just working out details about how it’s done.”
Ward pointed to a court decision in 2005 between Haverhill and the property owner, Plaistow Project LLC. The agreement states the project has a right to water and sewer services from Haverhill.
Haverhill officials had argued Panera’s site plan was different than the one agreed upon. Haverhill was concerned with the cost of the infrastructure and how the supply would operate.
Preliminary plans were presented to the town just about a year ago.
Plaza property manager Marjorie Hession refused to comment yesterday.
Ward said Panera will hook up the water and the city will treat the restaurant as if it were in Haverhill.
“They just have to pay a little higher user rate on water and sewer by terms of the agreement,” he said. “If a Haverhill business had to pay $1, they’d have to pay $1.50.”
The restaurant would have 88 seats and 12 employees. The closest Panera restaurants are in Newburyport and Derry.
Plaistow Town Manager Sean Fitzgerald estimated Panera would be open sometime between this fall and next spring.