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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Two Amherst Street projects get Planning Board OK, spurring major traffic changes to come

NASHUA – Two of three major construction projects along Amherst Street that some officials have dubbed the “Amherst Street Trio” received a green light from planning officials, which may lead to a series of changes for one of the city’s biggest traffic arteries.

Robin Bousa, director of transportation systems at Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, the firm the city contracted for a traffic impact study of Amherst Street, said that in light of two major projects at 255 and 270 Amherst St., which are essentially across the street from one another, the time is right to explore long- and short-term solutions for the heavily used east-west artery. ...

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NASHUA – Two of three major construction projects along Amherst Street that some officials have dubbed the “Amherst Street Trio” received a green light from planning officials, which may lead to a series of changes for one of the city’s biggest traffic arteries.

Robin Bousa, director of transportation systems at Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, the firm the city contracted for a traffic impact study of Amherst Street, said that in light of two major projects at 255 and 270 Amherst St., which are essentially across the street from one another, the time is right to explore long- and short-term solutions for the heavily used east-west artery.

She called the short-term solution, estimated to cost roughly $260,000, “more than a Band-Aid” and said it will act as a stepping stone toward the long-term plan.

Bousa said a more significant upgrade, including some widening of Amherst Street and Charron Avenue and the so-called “jughandles” that were created as part of the last major Amherst Street widening project nearly 40 years ago, are on the horizon.

More details on the study and action to be taken will be firmed up in the near future, including how much funding the developers agree to pledge to the project. But Bousa did say that a major aim of the study is finding solutions that will eventually do away with the jughandles.

The two major developments that won conditional permits and site plan approval after representatives presented their proposals to the city Planning Board on Thursday night were for a 40,000-square-foot retail center at 270 Amherst St. and a new auto shop at 635 Amherst St.

The owners of one of the sites, the former Nashua Motor Express property at 270 Amherst St., wanted to relocate a lot line in order to construct a roughly 40,000-square-foot retail center with a restaurant.

The other site, at 635-637 and 647 Amherst St., near the South Merrimack line and owned by 635 Amherst St. LLC and Key Auto Group, got the go-ahead for an expanded version of a 2013 proposal to build a 6,700-square-foot auto oil and lubrication shop and car wash.

Not on the agenda Thursday night was the third major project: the redesign and improvement of Turnpike Plaza, 255 Amherst St., where a Whole Foods store is set to open in late August and anchor the roughly 45-year-old plaza.

As for the 270 Amherst St. plans, Mark J. Fougere, a planning and development consultant, and engineer Wayne Morrill, of Stratham-based Jones and Beach Engineering, told the planning board that developers plan no changes to the property frontage along Amherst Street and will create access and egress points from the eastbound jughandle and Charron Avenue as well.

Morrill said developers are planning to update “a lot of drainage facilities on the site,” including an area behind the Pep Boys auto supply shop.

Site plans displayed at the Planning Board meeting showed the proposed 35,500-square-foot retail center, including a grocery store, sited just east of Pep Boys. A roughly 4,500-square-foot restaurant with a drive-thru is proposed for the north end, or front of the property, along Amherst Street.

No names of the grocery store or restaurant were revealed Thursday night. There has been speculation that a Papa Gino’s may open there, however, to replace the one that was torn down at Turnpike Plaza.

The owners cut it close on parking spaces, planning for 196 – five more than the required minimum – for the main building and 59, just two over the minimum, for the grocery store.

Planning Board members granted several waivers in approving the site plan, saying that the “design of the new buildings will most likely improve the appearance of the site” and citing the “considerable improvement in site landscaping” that developers are proposing.

The site, long ago part of the old Charron Poultry Farm, operated by the family for which the avenue was named, had for more than 50 years been a trucking terminal and office building for the Juris family’s Nashua Motor Express, the transportation firm that ceased operation last year.

Meanwhile, the property at 635-637 Amherst St. has been the site of several auto dealerships and related service centers over the years, dating back to when International Harvester trucks were sold by the former Demers Truck Sales in the early ’70s.

More recently, a Saturn car dealership operated on the site; it closed several years ago.

A company representative on Thursday night told board members that the firm halted construction of the original 5,400-square-foot facility closer to Amherst Street last winter when neighboring property at 647 Amherst St. became available and the company bought it.

They plan to raze the building, a former Asian restaurant, and an adjacent deck, he said, adding that the new construction will include a rain garden and other landscape enhancements.

Because part of the work will take place within the 75-foot required buffer to nearby Pennichuck Brook, the company sought, and received, approval from the Conservation Commission and Zoning Board, the representative said.

But Broad Street resident Cynthia Overby said the fact that the building was moved closer to Pennichuck Brook than the original building was creates the potential for negatively affecting the watershed.

“The better place was the site closer to Amherst Street,” Overby told the board. “This is in the watershed protection district, and now (the building) will be right next to the buffer.

“I believe the current application can be improved upon.”

Planning Board members raised concerns over waste, but the company representative said all oil and other substances is bought in bulk and that the used substances would be recycled.

Overby responded that although the building is considered self-contained, “accidents do happen.”

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Shalhoup on Twitter (@Telegraph_DeanS).