A plan to rebuild the aged Dillons grocery store on south Massachusetts Street soon may be facing the equivalent of getting stalled in the checkout line.
The city’s Board of Zoning Appeals is scheduled to hear on Thursday two key variance requests for the project, which is beginning to draw more concern from neighbors.
The board last month declined to take action on the two variance requests after concerns about parking, residential traffic and the store’s general layout were brought up.
“We need a new grocery store there,” said Rob Farha, who is part of a group that owns an apartment building immediately north of Dillons. “The current store is dilapidated, but I think to make the project fit properly and to have the parking work properly, there needs to be some changes to the design.”
Dillons late last year announced that it plans to raze the 1960s-era store at 1740 Mass. and replace it with a new store that would be 10,000 square feet larger and would have several new amenities such as an outdoor dining area, Starbucks, a Chinese deli and several new organic food departments.
But Dillons also is proposing that the new store would face the north, rather than facing west toward Massachusetts Street. That part of the project has required at least two requests for variances from city code. They are:
- A variance that would reduce the amount of parking required for the store to 129 spaces, down from 150 called for in the code. The current store has 178 spaces.
- A variance from the city code requiring the store to be set back 25 feet from both Massachusetts and New Hampshire streets. Instead, the store wants the setback reduced to zero, meaning it could go right up to the sidewalks much as downtown stores do today.
Neighbors haven’t objected much to the two specific variances, but rather have expressed concerns that the layout of the store will increase traffic in largely residential areas. The company proposed a drive-through pharmacy lane off New Hampshire Street, and also proposed that a two-way drive leading to the main parking lot be located on New Hampshire street.
Bob Gent, who lives a block east of the store, said residents are concerned about more store traffic going through the neighborhood on New Hampshire and 18th streets.
“The two-way drive is a big issue,” Gent said.
City Planning Director Scott McCullough said Dillons officials and some members of the neighborhood met recently to discuss issues including the building’s northern orientation, setback, vehicle and delivery truck access. But he said there was “no final resolution on what Dillons might revise to address the neighborhood’s concerns.”
Sheila Lowrie, a spokeswoman for Dillons, said the company was currently evaluating the comments received from those neighbors and valued their feedback.
But Lowrie declined to comment on whether the project would remain feasible if the city’s zoning board does not agree to the necessary variances.
The city’s zoning board acts as a quasi-judicial board. Generally, if the variance is not granted, Dillons could not appeal the decision to the City Commission, but rather would have to file an appeal in Douglas County District Court.
The city’s Board of Zoning Appeals is scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at City Hall.