AUGUSTA — The Planning Board approved a new Dunkin’ Donuts with a drive-thru on Western Avenue despite concerns about its impact on traffic in the area.
Board members voted unanimously Tuesday to approve Massachusetts-based Cafua Management’s proposal to create a 30-seat restaurant with a drive-thru in an existing building at 22 Western Ave., which will be accessed from Melville Street, but attached conditions meant to address concerns about the project.
The traffic impact, especially on busy Western Avenue during commuting hours, was the biggest concern of board members, residents, neighboring building owners and city and state officials.
Particularly of concern was that motorists would make a left off Western Avenue into the business on Melville Street or coming back out onto Western Avenue, crossing two eastbound traffic lanes.
“Dunkin’ Donuts is very popular, people coming off the circle heading up Western Avenue are going to see a Dunkin’ Donuts on other side of the street, and want to go there,” said resident Mary Saunders. “While they’re waiting to turn, you could easily get four, five or six cars stacked up waiting for them to turn, much to the aggravation of people trying to get off the circle. And the idea of someone wanting to leave Dunkin’ Donuts, and turn left onto Western Avenue makes my hair stand on end.”
A consultant’s analysis says the coffee shop will generate 1,588 one-way trips on weekdays, including 312 trips during the morning peak hour, between 7:15 and 8:15 a.m.,
Scott Braley, president of Plymouth Engineering, of Plymouth, Mass., representing Cafua Management, said the project will require a state Department of Transportation traffic movement permit and urged the board to approve the project with a condition it get the permit.
Board members, after two hours of debate, did just that.
Company officials said they plan to close the Sewall Street Dunkin’ Donuts, which is only a drive-thru, once the new site is operating.
Nazar he’s been told the company will sell the Sewall Street lot.
The drive-thru, which would serve customers in the same part of the building where the former occupant of the building, cPort Credit Union, also had one, would have space for 15 vehicles to be in line, which would meet city standards for a coffee and doughnut shop, and would be twice what the Dunkins’ Donuts on Sewall Street has.
The drive-thru line would wrap around the back of the parking lot to the window and exit onto Western Avenue.
Dave Allen, regional traffic engineer for the state transportation department, said the drive-thru exit would be restricted to right turn only, but warned it would still be possible for motorists, ignoring right-turn only signs, to turn left and cross two lanes of eastbound traffic to go west on Western Avenue.
The existing location is so close to the proposed new site that this afternoon, the sound of a Dunkin’ Donuts worker offering to take customers’ orders on the drive-thru speaker off Sewall Street could be heard in the parking lot of the proposed new parking lot, across Melville Street.
The new restaurant’s drive-thru menu board would have a speaker pointed in the general direction of a house nearby on Chapel Street.
Braley said the menu board would be about 25 feet from the property line, would be blocked by cars when in use and would comply with city standards. The city noise ordinance requires noise to be no louder than 60 decibels at the property line.
“We will meet the 60 decibels at the property line,” Braley said. “Those speaker boxes’ volume levels can be changed, and they can be redirected. We don’t envision noise as being an issue.”
He said the business sought to be open between 5 a.m. and midnight, which he said is later than other Dunkin’ Donuts in the city. He said other businesses in the area, such as Domino’s Pizza directly across Melville Street, are open as late as 1 or 2 a.m., so a business being open to midnight would not be incompatible.
Board member Linda Conti said she would not vote to approve the business operating until that late at night. She said when there was a Dunkin’ Donuts nearby several years ago it was open late at night and frequently required police responses.
Planners later voted to restrict operating hours to 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Company officials noted the move from the Sewall Street site to Western Avenue would be an improvement for all.
Braley wrote in application materials that closing the Sewell Street site will be “a major benefit” to the city and its people.
He said the popularity of the site has resulted in traffic issues related to the long drive-thru line and the new one “will be much better able to handle the existing Sewall Street customers and hopefully new customers as well.”
Braley said there are no plans to alter the exterior brick facade of the 3,120 square-foot building or make other significant changes to the property.
The project would add a six-foot-high stockade fence on the east property line to improve the privacy of residences on Chapel Street. Much of the rest of the lot is already landscaped with buffer zones surrounding much of the property.
Melville Street is a dead-end street, although other streets, including Chapel Street, may physically be accessed from Melville through private office parking lots to the rear of both those streets.
Curtis Picard, executive director of the Retail Association of Maine, which is in an office building at the end of Melville Street, and George Gilmore, an owner of a company that owns a three-story office building at 77 Sewall St., both said they are concerned about customers leaving Dunkin’ Donuts and cutting through their private parking lots.
“Folks in a hurry are remarkably creative — I suspect access in and out of (the office buildings’ parking lots by Dunkin’ customers) may be a concern once this is in full operation,” Gilmore said.
At their Aug. 13, meeting planners voted unanimously against recommending another site, on Davenport Street on the city’s east side, be rezoned to allow for another proposed new Dunkin’ Donuts Cafua sought. Numerous neighbors spoke against that project.
There are already five Dunkin’ Donuts franchises in Augusta.
Keith Edwards — 621-5647