The following is a letter to the editor from City Councilor Robert Logan.
This is in response to the various comments posted under the article “Delays For Five Guys/Panera/Chipotle Opening?” I am somewhat reluctant to even bother responding because most of the comments have been posted by wise crackers who think they have all the answers, but don’t have a clue what they are talking about. However, for the benefit of those intelligent few who have attempted to engage in some level of civil discourse, here is the story.
FACT: The delays have all been the fault of the developer/property owner.
There three “fast-food” special permits currently pending before the City Council -- Panera Bread, Five Guys and Chipotle. However, before these were even submitted to the Council, a special permit had to be granted to the developer for the construction of the building. The reason that the special permit was required is that the developer sought to be allowed to provide less parking than is required under zoning. He did not have to obtain that special permit in order to build a building at that location. He could have built a slightly smaller building that would have required less parking, and also taken up less of the lot thus providing for more parking. He could have done this by-right without ever coming to the Council and still had a very profitable development. However, he wanted more building than that, so he went to the Council looking for relief from the parking requirements. That was his choice to make and he made it.
The special permit process is laid out in state law and a special permit is a binding legal document. It includes a written decision of the permit granting authority, in this case the City Council, various detailed plans (e.g. plot plan, building plans, parking plans etc.) all stamped by the appropriate licensed professional (e.g. registered land surveyor, architect, etc.), along with any conditions the permit granting authority sees fit to attach to the permit in order to mitigate any negative impacts (e.g. traffic, noise, etc.). Once the permit is granted, it is filed with the state Registry of Deeds. The property owner who requested and was granted the permit is then required by law to build everything in conformity with the plans, and to comply with all conditions attached. If they don’t want to do that, they can renounce the special permit and just build whatever is allowed by right. Otherwise, they must comply 100 percent with the permit.
The owner of this property requested a special permit. By accepting the special permit they agreed to abide by it. Yet, they did not. First they constructed a drive-thru driveway and window that the City Council expressly disapproved. Then they added a concrete pad and a huge transformer right on Main Street that was not even on the plans, moved loading docks and parking spaces in the rear from where they were specified on the plans, changed the location of several handicapped parking spaces, reduced the width of the landscaped area along the Weston Street side of the property, changed a one-way travel lane in the parking lot to a two-way, and failed to adequately screen the rooftop appurtenances as required by the permit. The developer has admitted to these violations and is currently working to correct them. However, that does not change the fact that no further permits shall be issued until these violations are corrected and the owner is in compliance.
I’ve never eaten at Chipotle, but my family loves Panera and I am a big fan of Five Guys. When Five Guy’s opens, you can bet I’ll be there for a double hamburger with bacon, barbecue sauce and jalapenos. However, before this can happen, the property owner must come into compliance with the special permit just like any other permit holder. They asked for a permit. We gave it to them. Now they have to comply. It’s that simple.
As a side note, I find it curious that such a hullabaloo is made about the Council not acting quickly enough on fast food permits. We often take longer to approve large developments on Route 128 that will bring in far more jobs, much better paying jobs and way more tax revenue than any burger joint or coffee shop. But we never hear a peep from the same “we need jobs now” crowd on those proposals. I have to question such priorities.
I should also note that despite the frequent protestations by Waltham’s “fast-food lobby” here on Waltham Patch, the vast majority of residents I speak with are more concerned about traffic and other issues than the adequacy of our fast food options.
Finally, I will state once again that Waltham’s commercial base is the envy of the state. As President of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, I meet with elected and appointed officials from all over the Commonwealth. Frequently I am asked, “How does Waltham get all of that business?” and am often complimented on “all of the great restaurants” we have on Moody Street. We will continue to work with businesses to make Waltham a better place. At the same time, we cannot ignore our duty to protect the neighborhoods and the safety and well being of the residents, as well as the quality of life in our community.
Robert G. Logan
Councillor Ward 9
Member, Rules & Ordinances Committee (Editor's Note: the committee reviews applications for fast food permits).