The following is from City Councilor Robert Logan.
Let me first address the more general issue of new businesses coming into the City of Waltham. Waltham is one of the most pro-business cities in the state. We have a commercial base that is the envy of the Commonwealth, and is headquarters for a number of large corporations. When Dassault Systèmes opened its North American Headquarters on Wyman Street last year it brought over 800 high-tech jobs to Waltham. Waltham has more Class A office space than any other community on Route 128, and more hotel rooms than any other city in Massachusetts outside of Boston and Cambridge. Waltham is attracting plenty of businesses with well paying jobs. In fact, according the U.S. Census there are 6,221 firms located in Waltham.
Nonetheless, some people seem to laboring under the misperception that Waltham is not business friendly. This is apparently the result of a few high profile cases involving requests for fast food special permits. Keep in mind that Waltham is not exactly suffering from a paucity of fast food options, so Waltham is no more anti fast food than it is anti business. However, because of the nature of such operations, which typically create more traffic, higher parking demand, and more noise and litter than other business uses, fast food is more highly regulated and requires a special permit. Each petition for a fast food special permit is given a fair hearing and decided on its individual merits based on the facts of each unique situation. Most fast food special permits are granted, but some are not.
The proposed development on the corner of Trapelo Road and Lexington Street attempted to shoehorn five businesses, including a Starbuck’s, an Asian restaurant, a bank with a drive-thru, and two other unspecified businesses on a relatively small lot on a corner of one of the worst intersections in the state. It did not have nearly enough parking for all of the businesses being planned. The entire proposal was a gross overreach by the developer, and the City Council would have been recklessly irresponsible to have approved it. The proposed “Wings Over Waltham” at 110 Lexington Street had an even bigger parking problem. Although it was proposed to be primarily a delivery operation it also included take-out, which required parking spaces, and the plans submitted also showed seating for eat-in. After tallying the spaces needed for take-out and eat-in customers, the developer had to admit that he did not have any parking left on site for employees. They just did not have enough parking.
Which brings us to Boloco. First, it is important to note that most of the “delay” in this proposal was due to the fact that the first attorney they hired dropped the ball and, for over a year, never filed most of the paperwork to even start the process. As a result, this matter never even came before the City Council until just this past August. Once it came to us the biggest issue was, again, parking. The Duffy property, which already houses Bertucci’s and two other restaurants, has a parking shortage already even though part of the building is vacant. Boloco would have taken up some of that vacant space, but would have exacerbated an already critical parking deficiency there. The Ordinances & Rules Committee was willing to work with Boloco and Duffy, by counting the parking on the City owned access road toward the total requirement. However, we needed assurances from Duffy that no other restaurants would go into any of the remaining vacant spaces. Given the high parking demand generated by restaurant uses, the existing shortage on site, and our willingness to bend and count the public spaces, this was not an unreasonable demand. However, Duffy would not agree to this and Boloco was forced to withdraw.
I understand that people get all excited when they hear that their favorite eatery may be coming to town, and I am disappointed that the Boloco proposal did not work out. I was the one who proposed that the public parking be counted and was planning to vote in favor of the proposed decision, with the restriction on additional restaurant space included. It looked like we had an agreement. The attorney for the petitioners included the restriction in the final draft of the decision. Then the property owner balked. So, you see, there is a lot more to all of this than most people know. Waltham is very business friendly, but there is a difference between hanging out the welcome sign and being a doormat.
Robert G. Logan
Councillor Ward 9
Member, Rules & Ordinances Committee