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Winchester

Proposed CVS in Winchester faces opposition

A proposal to build a new CVS faces opposition in Winchester as the Zoning Board of Appeals weighs approvals for the project.

The 13,158-square-foot store would be located at Washington and Swanton streets on the site of three commercial buildings, which would be demolished.

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The project, which the development firm Gershman Brown Crowley  seeks to construct on behalf of the pharmacy chain’s owner, CVS Caremark, has drawn objections from residents and the Planning Board.

In its report to the zoning board, which opened a hearing into the project Dec. 11, the Planning Board said the store would not be in keeping with the character of the area.

“The design — which may be appropriate on Mass. Avenue in Arlington, on Route 28 in the Redstone Mall in Stoneham, and in other highway strip commercial areas — is inappropriate, out of scale, and inconsistent with the neighborhood,” the Planning Board said.

Mary Winstanley O’Connor, attorney for the developers, rejected the notion that the project was out of character, noting that the proposed building would be the same elevation as the existing structures and that the current businesses see little foot traffic.

She said the project would enhance the character of the area, noting that the plan “calls for tripling the on-site green space with mature trees, increasing the vegetative strip along the property line, improved drainage, and a first-class building.”

The Planning Board also said more evidence was needed to show there was sufficient market demand for the store and that it would not detrimentally affect the economic viability of the existing CVS store downtown.

Richard Leaf, an architect who lives in Winchester, also questions opening a second CVS in town.

“I’m opposed to it not because it is a CVS, but because we already have a CVS, in the downtown. I don’t see what the town has to gain by a second CVS,” Leaf, who was one of a number of residents who spoke against the project at the opening zoning board session, said in a later interview.

He said if the intention is to close the downtown CVS, “I think that’s a huge mistake. . . . It’s almost like the anchor store in a mall. It’s a major attraction.” He said closing the store would “leave a hole in the downtown and lessen its vibrancy.”

O’Connor said that CVS Caremark has “unequivocally stated” that it does not plan to close its downtown store and in fact just signed a new long-term lease on the building. She said the company’s market research has shown that communities can support more than one CVS, noting that Arlington has three.

The company’s market analysis shows that the proposed new CVS in Winchester would not harm the other store, O’Connor said, noting that while the smaller, 8,500-square-foot Main Street store caters to downtown foot traffic, the new store would serve a broader population in the community.

The Planning Board said it wanted to see more analysis as well of the project’s impact on local traffic. Leaf also cited traffic as a concern, calling the site the wrong location for the proposed store.

“It’s at a really busy intersection and it’s just going to cause a nightmare,” he said.

O’Connor said the developer conducted a full traffic analysis that showed the Washington and Swanton streets intersection would “operate at the same level of service” under the proposed development as under existing conditions.

She said the pharmacy would be a benefit for the town and the neighborhood.

“It’s taking an underutilized, tired, and outdated site and improving it,” she said, adding that that would translate into added property taxes for the town.

She said the store also would offer neighborhood residents a convenient shopping option, noting that CVS is selling a broader variety of nonpharmaceutical products, including milk and bread, in its new stores.

The property is owned by two real estate trusts. One owns a 5,800-square-foot retail building with several existing businesses, and a 1,820-square-foot building that houses a dry cleaner and until recently a restaurant. The other trust owns a 4,210-square-foot building that houses an auto repair shop.

O’Connor said the proposed use is allowed under existing zoning, but that Gershman needs the zoning board’s approval of its site plan. It also seeks a special permit from the board to use six of the parking spaces for a loading zone since the loss of the six spaces would leave the site with three fewer spaces than the 66 zoning requires.

Gershman has made several changes to the design to address concerns, O’Connor said, including placing the handicap ramp inside one of the entrances to the building, and moving the location of the building near the property line to give it a “pedestrian feel.” She said it is continuing to work on possible revisions based on community input.

The hearing will resume Jan. 8  with a discussion of site improvements, drainage, signs, and lighting, and then on Jan. 29 when traffic, building demolition, and the remediation of contaminated soils will be the focus, according to town planner Elizabeth Ware.

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.
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