A plan for a new Dillons grocery store on south Massachusetts Street is still alive, despite objections from several neighbors near the store.
The project to raze the current store at 1740 Mass. and replace it with a larger, more modern grocery store won a key victory from the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals.
The board unanimously agreed to grant two variances to the project, saying the community would benefit from the project more than any nearby neighbors would be hurt by it.
“It does look like a good project,” said zoning commission member Carol von Tersch. “I have a sense that the overall investment Dillons will make will have a positive impact on the entire area.”
Dillons officials said the positive vote by the zoning board was critical to the project. If the board had denied the variances, Dillons’ only appeal option would have been to file a lawsuit in Douglas County District Court.
Several neighbors — both residents and businesses — of the store said they were concerned the project’s layout would create traffic, parking and aesthetics problems. The store is proposed to face north, instead of west like the current store does. As part of the design, Dillons — and its parent company, Kroger — sought two variances that would allow for:
• A reduction in parking. The city code requires 150 parking spaces. The variance allows Dillons to provide 129 spaces.
• A reduction in how far the store must be set back from Massachusetts and New Hampshire streets. Code requires the store to be set back 25 feet from the streets. The variance eliminates the setback requirement.
“Kroger is a huge company and they are trying to save a little bit of money by testing the limits of the city’s code,” said Matthew Gough, an attorney representing an ownership group of an apartment building just north of the store. “The question before you tonight is whether they will be allowed to develop the cheap way or whether they will be made to do it the right way.”
But Dillons representatives said the company was working to make the project fit the neighborhood. It announced several design changes Thursday, including a plan to limit traffic turning out of the store’s parking lot onto New Hampshire Street.
Zoning board members also heard from several east Lawrence residents who said the store was critical to the health of several neighborhoods.
“Hopefully the interest of the 50 people or so who live in a one-block area around the store won’t be weighed so much more heavily than the 5,000 or 10,000 east Lawrence residents who also will benefit from this project,” Austin C. Turney said.
The project now must win site plan approval from city planners. A representative from Dillons said the company did not have a firm timeline on when construction of a new store could begin.