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Planning Board hears livery, office proposals

July 16, 2009


SOUTHBRIDGE — If the Planning Board ends up giving a green light, Southbridge will have one more business and space for two others. But public hearings for both are currently in limbo as the board requested their proponents to return with more information.

The first hearing Wednesday evening involved a concept by Angel Marquez to run a special needs transportation business out of his Servant Way home. He said he intends to offer a van to take handicapped and senior citizens to appointments, family events and other places for a fee.

Letters from Police Chief Daniel Charette and DPW Director Ken Kalinowski both claimed Town Manager Chris Clark must determine if Marquez needs a taxi license. Paraphrasing Kalinowski's letter, which cited town bylaw, Chairman Paul St. Jean said "any vehicle being used to convey passengers for hire shall be deemed a taxicab."

Marquez, however, claimed he has spoken to Clark and was assured his operation would be a "livery" enterprise not requiring a taxi license. He could not provide written proof, and the board opted to ask Clark for clarification.

Marquez said he plans to start with one van garaged at his home, but would essentially only be doing business paperwork there. Most of the business, he said, would come by cell phone and would probably only come home at night, so there would be few, if any, trips through the residential neighborhood.

But that neighborhood is in a unique position, Member Larry Spinelli observed — it's incomplete.

"This is the first time ever that someone has applied for a home-based business that's not on an accepted road," he said.

Spinelli was referring to the fact Servant Way is still under construction and is therefore still owned by its developer, Michael Lussier. Lussier said half of the subdivision's 10 homes have been built, and he plans to have the road's final layer of pavement laid by the time the ninth one is complete.

Normally, the town won't accept a road as a public way until that last layer, Spinelli said, adding "there are plenty of unaccepted roads that have been in limbo for years and years."

This one, however, was built with a stipulation that there will be no parking on the street, since it's narrower than a normal road. Thus, if Marquez' business grows, he'll have to move it into a commercial part of town, the board said.

Lussier was particularly concerned about that issue, saying, "I'm still trying to sell houses there and I don't want it to look like a bus station." After some discussion, he said he was satisfied and had no other problems with the proposal.

Marquez said his business idea grew out of 22-plus years working with disabled people in Connecticut. But he did not know several things board members wanted to know, including what kind of state licensing such an endeavor would need. Several people thought he would need extra insurance and a commercial driver's license, and possibly even licensing from the state Department of Development Services or a similar agency. The board asked him to research it and come back in August.

The second project was more controversial from a neighborhood perspective. Lawyer Edmond Neal and local engineer Michael Loin resumed an earlier presentation about rebuilding 42 Edwards Street. The historic two-family structure was hit by fire some time ago and, although repairable, was deemed too expensive to rebuild to match its historic design.

Instead, owner Kate Robinson opted to demolish it and erect a smaller building featuring a professional office with two apartments and a parking lot.

Attorney Matt Russo, however, argued the proposal "has not satisfied the zoning regulations," including a traffic study and the fact, he alleged, that the project is not the multi-family use the paperwork claims it to be. He said he did not believe the bylaws allow the use Robinson is proposing.

Loin said a traffic study is "at the discretion of the board" and would cost at least $5,000.

One sticking point for neighbors is a barn/garage on the property, because there's a right of way allowing it to be used from the neighboring parcel (Robinson's home). Earlier this year, Russo said, neighbors called police because cars in that right of way blocked their ability to get out.

Robinson agreed the incident happened — she said it was a group of her Boy Scout leaders who had followed her to the garage to see where it was because they store equipment there. They met in her house for about an hour before leaving, she said, promising future visits would involve just one vehicle with a canoe trailer. She later added police had been called to the property several times under the previous owners.

Neal and Robinson agreed to accept a condition that right of way would be limited to "non-business use" and that the main building would have no more than two apartments, whether or not the offices are filled. Robinson later said she's hoping to get doctors or similar professionals from Harrington Hospital to move into her building.

Before tabling the hearing until Sept. 2, St. Jean told Russo and Neal they "have some work ahead of you" and asked them to come to "some sort of agreement" over various lingering issues. Without such a deal, he said he's inclined to vote 'no,' and predicted other members would as well.

Gus Steeves can be reached at 508-909-4135 or by e-mail at gsteeves@stonebridgepress.com.

This story will appear Friday, July 17 in the Southbridge Evening News

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