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LETTER: Chipotle/Five Guys/Panera Building Issues Are Developer's Fault

See what City Councilor Robert Logan has to say on the recent controversy around the Main Street Marketplace.

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. 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).

cathy hernandez December 17, 2012 at 11:42 AM
Well said!!
charliemingus December 17, 2012 at 01:08 PM
Mr. Logan- Thanks for providing such a thorough and comprehensive explanation of the delays here. It certain clears up a lot of misinformation. The only question I have is (and not as a "wise cracker") is there a thorough vetting process for the developer? Per your list of their dishonest and misleading actions they sound like a high level form of scammer. Once again thanks for responding to the comments.
Mk10 December 17, 2012 at 01:14 PM
Although I do not agree with the decisions that are made by the council or the hoops that they appear to make companies jump through to get the permits, I do NOT fault the council for this problem. However, it only appears to me that they are now covering themselves for such decisions by nit picking smaller problems that are really insignificant. If these problems were really so horrible then how is it that some occupancies are able to open while others are not, in that complex. It has to be all or nothing. The fault completely lies with the building department on the prblems stated in the letter above. How does the "certified" building inspectors let something go that is not on the plans. i hear numerous stories of people having problems, with very insignificant changes on private home building, with the building department, but they let something go that appears, at least to the council, to be very significant, go and now these businesses are not going to be allowed to open. IParty was allowed to open and the "problems" were a part of the building then. It appears to me, a lowly voter and good citizen, that special privileges are being given to certain companies. Why is that a store can open but not a restaurant? Again, I do not pretend to know the inner workings of the council, but a little more transparency would be appreciated. Letters to the editor about how well the city of Waltham does with business activity and tooting your horn is not transparency.
JohnnyMass December 17, 2012 at 01:34 PM
Want to improve the quality of life in our community, huh? Start enforcing the immigration laws!
Alice H December 17, 2012 at 02:53 PM
Thanks, Councilor Logan. I appreciate the extra effort you make to communicate about city issues. Wish all the councilors would follow your lead.
Eagles December 17, 2012 at 02:58 PM
Why was I party allowed to open? So they just have to get a building permit, and the only hostage you can find is those waiting on fast food. Why were these violations not addressed during construction. Does the building inspector not enforse approved plans? I agree with the councilman, but this looks bad to have a finished empty plaza given the recent events in other proposed food establishments.
Kristine Munroe December 17, 2012 at 03:01 PM
Why didn't any of this affect the openings of iParty, Doctors Express, etc?
theclefe December 17, 2012 at 04:02 PM
The Patch's editor is partly to blame for this rabble by posting incomplete stories lacking any research. Instead of rushing to post, take a moment to get the background. The Wednesday article that started most of this could have been abated had he just posted Tarallo's full explanation of the situation later in the day. Second, Councilor Logan shouldn't be so disparaging to the "fast food lobby." The reason why you don't talk to these people on the street is because they are working, supporting families on meager salaries and odd shifts. They are not hanging out in coffee shops or at campaign events waiting to shake hands with you. Yes, they are concerned about traffic, as well as education, public safety and a host of other issues. What they are not concerned about is the width of landscaping and whether or not a HVAC unit is surrounded by a fence. That's not to say we aren't glad that someone is looking out for these things, but our passion for this subject doesn't come simply because we hate you and the council. It comes from the recent pattern of trivial concerns stalling, punishing and cancelling projects. Don't demean us by calling us wisecrackers or ignorant, and don't take offense at having to explain the council's decisions. If you can't understand why red flags go up when stories like this are posted, then I don't think you really know the effect the council's recent decisions and actions have had on public perception.
theclefe December 17, 2012 at 04:05 PM
I assume because fast food needs a special permit.
Ryan Grannan-Doll (Editor) December 17, 2012 at 04:10 PM
@theclefe, Thanks for commenting. However, your view of how this story unfolded is not totally informed. Mr. Tarallo made his first comments at around 9 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 10 during a Council meeting. He did not issue specifics on the building mistakes. The next day, I called him to get more information, which he happily supplied. I posted that information later. FYI, when important stories arise, the full facts and details are not always available and often emerge later.
theclefe December 17, 2012 at 04:35 PM
@Ryan. I know it came off as a little harsh, but I was a upset at your initial article. Unless I'm mistaken, you posted a Monday event on Wednesday without the full facts. Hardly seems likes the information was so pressing that you couldn't have gotten more info. I emailed Councilor Tarrallo and got an explanation that day, likely the same that you posted in your follow-up article. You do a great job getting a lot of info out, and I thank you for your work, but I believe a lot of the controversy here stems from the lack of initial reporting around an already inflamed issue.
WHSHawk December 17, 2012 at 05:56 PM
Thanks for the explanation. I think part of the reason there's more outcry on fast food is because they're more reported on and frankly probably affect local residents (or maybe just readers) more. When a new company opens on Bear Hill Road or Wyman Street, sure they bring lots of jobs (many well paying and tech related) and the traffic that goes with them, but most of that traffic won't pass by residents and most of those jobs won't be taken by residents. They leave work and get right on 128 though possibly bothering some residents on Stow Street. The fast food restaurants serve the local community and thus people seem more interested in them. Of course I don't have any proof to back this up but just my thought. On another note: perhaps the council could consider setting up a blog where councilors are encouraged to 'defend' the votes. They could explain when issues like this arise. I would be more than happy to read point/counterpoint type articles when councilors disagree about a vote.
Ace December 17, 2012 at 06:00 PM
This is unfortunate, but it provides some guidance for things that the city can do better. Perhaps the permitting process needs to include several inspections during the construction phase. If the footprint is bigger than the plan, tell them when the forms are in, not after the building is finished. If the paving isn't to spec, tell them before granting the first occupancy permit. This isn't rocket science, folks, and if our fair city doesn't have several project managers/inspectors to do this work, now is the time to hire them.
Steven Cavaretta December 17, 2012 at 06:00 PM
Ryan youre doing a great job keep it up. Some people are never satisfied.
Ryan Grannan-Doll (Editor) December 17, 2012 at 06:02 PM
Steven, Thank you for your kind words. It means so much to editors/reporters when readers compliment them!
Steven Cavaretta December 17, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Ryan youre under the gun to report quickly and thats tough given that the politicos LOVE to drag things out. The patch does a better job that the trib or globe reporting on local news. Some folks take there anger out on you cause the politicos work in the shadows. Guess it comes with the territory.
theclefe December 17, 2012 at 06:32 PM
@Steven. As I said, he does do a great job getting stuff out. I'm not taking my anger out on him at all. Just helping to understand the context of this debate. I do think it's fair, since we are criticizing politicians and developers. We had Commenters calling councilors lairs and councilors calling commenters ignorant, based mostly a premature article on a hot-button issue. Look at how the tone changed from Wednesday's article to Thursday's article once he provided more information, and the ratio of positive comments on this informative post. So, to stroke egos... Ryan, you are a very good reporter and an asset to the community. Thank you very much for what you do. P.S. Your Wednesday article was still inflammatory. ;)
Kristine Munroe December 17, 2012 at 06:33 PM
@theclefe Yes, but some of these things seems like problems beyond the scope of a fast food establishment, like the parking, the roofing, the transformer, etc. If these were problems with the whole plaza, I don't understand why the other establishments were allowed to open.
theclefe December 17, 2012 at 06:48 PM
@Kristine. I could be wrong, but I believe those entities could open by right without a special permit given the zoning of the area. Fast foot requires special approval regardless, allowing the city council a chance to delay that process as leverage over the developer to rectify these issues. That or, they simply got approval before the problems were noticed.
Spencer Lyon December 18, 2012 at 01:01 AM
In what way do you presume the City Council do that? Border patrol around Waltham? Racial profiling by the cops? Forcing everyone that might look illegal* to carry around papers like in AZ? *I'm pretending that the idea you can tell a documented immigrant from an undocumented one on looks alone is even the slightest bit logical and not racist at all. Nice derailing from a completely different topic about a completely different issue.
Spencer Lyon December 18, 2012 at 01:25 AM
People aren't concerned about the pity details until those pity details become a problem. An ounce of prevention... Also, Councillor Logan doesn't hang out at coffee shops either. He's busy doing fifty hundred other things for his family, or Waltham, or Massachusetts. And he called the people who make wisecracks wisecrackers, not the people who actually are willing to sit down and listen to what's really going on behind the scenes. You appear to be one of those people who would be able to have an actual discussion on this topic, or others similar to it. But if one is dumb enough to think the council is always trying to act against our best interest, and not articulate enough to to say anything beyond trope insults toward politicians or the government, then yes, one may in fact, be ignorant. And that's why he was reluctant to explain. It's like standing in front of a crowd that thinks Elvis is alive and not matter how many facts you provide that prove he's dead, they continue to think Elvis is alive and that you are covering it up.
Robert G. Logan December 18, 2012 at 04:40 AM
Beryl, Under state law anyone can apply for a permit. It is the City Council's decision whether or not to grant it. We had never dealt with this developer before. Believe me, if he comes before us for another project we would proceed with extreme caution. Robert G. Logan Councillor Ward 9
Robert G. Logan December 18, 2012 at 04:45 AM
A number of occupancy permits were issued before the City Council became aware of the problems at that location. At that time, the Building Department was called before the Ordinances & Rules Committee to explain why this happened. Since then, no further occupancy permits have been issued. Robert G. Logan Councillor Ward 9
Robert G. Logan December 18, 2012 at 04:46 AM
See response to Eagle above.
Robert G. Logan December 18, 2012 at 04:53 AM
Steven Caretta - What evidence can you provide to support your assertion that "the politicos LOVE to drag things out."? Also, please explain your comment that "the politicos work in the shadows." All of our meetings are open to the public and are broadcast on cable TV and reported in the print and online media. I am here answering questions. What are you talking about? Robert G. Logan Councillor Ward 9
Robert G. Logan December 18, 2012 at 04:55 AM
Steven Cavaretta - Sorry I got your name wrong.
Mike Cae December 19, 2012 at 02:57 PM
Why is Delta Dental being allowed to open, per their website? Have all the problems been corrected?

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