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Charlestown OKs Convenience Shop

Charlestown — After a 90 minute hearing Tuesday night where many spoke against a proposed Jiffy Mart convenience store with a sandwich shop and gas pumps on Main Street, the Planning Board voted 7-0 to approve the site plan for the project.

Board member Pat Royce said she thought the opposition that filled the meeting room Tuesday night did not represent the majority in town.

“I feel about 90 percent of the town, who we represent, is for this proposal,” Royce said.

Others applauded the applicant, Champlain Oil, for reworking the site plan and addressing the board’s earlier concerns. “Champlain Oil has bent over backwards,” said board member Rosie Smith-Hull. “They’ve done everything we wanted, and we need a new Jiffy Mart.”

The company plans to construct a 4,100-square-foot convenience store and Subway restaurant with gas pumps on about an acre directly across from the intersection of Main and Sullivan streets. It would replace the smaller store slightly to the south at Main and Depot streets.

Increased traffic on Main Street, the removal of the historic Hasham House on the property and perceived damage to the character of the downtown, which has standing as a historic district on the National Register, were some of the reasons residents opposed the project.

Ellie Tsetsi, a lifelong resident, said if Charlestown starts approving this type of development, the downtown would appear like every “cookie cutter” town in the nation.

“What you are talking about is changing this sense of place,” Tsetsi said, pointing out that discount retailer Dollar General is proposing a store on Sullivan and Main streets behind R&K Auto Service. “We have to protect our community. Deny these applications and keep our sense of place.”

The nearly 200-year-old Hasham House has been vacant for at least 15 years and has fallen into disrepair. But rather than demolish it, the house is under contract to be dismantled and moved to property owned by Wayne McCutcheon, where it will someday be rebuilt.

“It is a very good alternative for that house,” said board member Sharon Francis, who noted that the current owner is not receptive to a restoration effort. “It is a win-win, and we all benefit from it being saved, not lost.”

Charlestown Historical Society President Joyce Higgins lamented the loss of the home in the historic district but believes the offer from McCutcheon is the right decision.

“At this point, this is the best offer, but not the best solution,” Higgins said.

A lot of the discussion concerned traffic and a Sept. 12 letter from the Department of Transportation. The DOT told Champlain Oil it would not require a left hand turning lane but did ask the company to put up $15,000 in the form of a bond to pay for a portion of a turning lane if the DOT decides to construct one the next time it paves the road. “They are protecting themselves in case it needs to be done in the future,” said Stephen Pernaw, a traffic engineer and president of Pernaw & Company in Concord.

Store opponent and resident David Forsaith said Main Street is simply not wide enough to handle the traffic, comparing it to the four lanes in Walpole where there is a Jiffy Mart.

“You have no place to go. You just need to do a little more research and find another place,” Forsaith said to applause.

Another opponent, John Murray, wanted the board to consider the Dollar General store with the Jiffy Mart. Though Dollar General has not submitted a site plan, representatives did tell the board Tuesday night in a preliminary discussion that the company is planning a 9,100-square-foot store on 1.25 acres.

“Both applications should be considered together, otherwise you are meeting needs of a situation that will no longer exist,” Murray said about the Jiffy Mart site plan.

The DOT is requiring Champlain Oil to widen the shoulder of the northbound lane on Main Street, which angered Robert Scott, owner of R&K Auto Service. “You will cut off access for my customers,” Scott said. “You are willing to jeopardize my business, but you are saying you are doing the right thing for the town.”

Matt Wamsganz, planner for Champlain Oil, spoke to the opposition and asked the board to separate the facts from emotion and opinion.

“You have an obligation to give the application a fair and balanced look, if it meets the regulations or does not meet the regulations,” Wamsganz said.

The approval comes with several conditions and three waivers regarding lighting at the entrance, a reduced landscape buffer along some portions of the south boundary line and lot coverage. Town regulations limit buildings and hard surfaces to no more than 50 percent of a site, but the lot would have 59 percent coverage.

Board member Brenda Ferland said Champlain did look at other sites on Main Street but was unable to find another suitable parcel.

“What is before us now is a good plan,” Ferland said.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com.