GROTON -- A local business received a boost when members of the Zoning Board of Appeals voted to approve a variance to the town's zoning bylaws, allowing it to proceed with plans to demolish an existing building and replace it with a new one.
Alliance Retail, owners of the Mobil gas station at 6 Boston Road, seeks to tear down its existing building and replace it with a slightly smaller structure that would be dedicated to selling general merchandise.
The station's primary business, however, will remain the sale of gasoline with its current arrangement of two sets of pumping stations on its undersized lot.
According to Alliance attorney Robert Collins, the new building is to have a smaller footprint than the current one, with 1,100 square feet out of 1,600 dedicated to retail space.
Currently, the retail portion of the existing building covers 600 square feet.
"The new building will be less visually intrusive than what is there now," said Collins.
Changes in the proposal made since the plan was first brought before the ZBA include dimmer lights and reduction in hours of operation from a 10 p.m. closing to 9 p.m.
In addition, Collins said his client intends to supply design plan reviewers with lighting, landscaping and stormwater management plans.
"The world would be a better place if the current building changed to something like this," concluded Collins.
At issue for the ZBA is a waiver to the town's zoning bylaws for the property that would allow the owner to proceed with a special permit application.
As a preexisting, nonconforming structure, any physical change to the property must be approved by the board. In the case of the Mobil station, its nonconformity was created years ago, when zoning for the neighborhood was created, designating the area as residential/agricultural.
For that reason, neighborhood residents were wary of the proposed upgrades, fearing traffic congestion and business creep along that portion of Boston Road.
In reply, Collins reminded everyone that the property had been used as the site of a repair garage or filling station for 60 years with no indication that it would be converted to any other use, especially residential.
"This is better for the neighborhood than what's there now and better for the town," said Collins. "And we do need gas stations. We had half a dozen years ago and now we're down to three. What exists there now is an eyesore and ought to be replaced."
Board chairman Mark Mulligan agreed, saying that the proposed changes seemed to be an improvement.
"I don't think it's going to be a negative impact on the neighborhood," said Mulligan. "You're getting an improved facility."
"I do like the building," admitted Old Ayer Road resident Michael Weinberg. "But everything sounds too good to be true."
Weinberg wanted to know why the owners were investing so much money in making the upgrades if they had no plan to expand the business into other areas in the future, beyond selling lottery tickets, bags of chips and soft drinks.
"There certainly is no hidden agenda here," assured Collins.
"I think it's a viable and worthwhile venture," said longtime resident George Wheatley, whose opinion seemed to reflect an overall friendliness to the proposal.
But to assuage any lingering doubts, board members decided to restrict the new store's retail area to no more than 1,200 square feet before voting to allow the nonconforming use.