Parade of residents implore Zoning Board to deny Dunkin’
Town officials join residents in decrying ‘catastrophic’ proposal for drive-thru in Bristol's Gooding Plaza
After a parade of residents and public safety personnel expressed their opposition — in some cases, anger — to a proposed new Dunkin’ Donuts in Gooding Plaza during a meeting that stretched late into Thursday night, the Bristol Zoning Board continued the hearing for the fourth time.
Board members have now heard nearly 13 hours of testimony over four meetings on the controversial proposal to build a Dunkin’ Donuts on Hope Street, between the Defiance Hose Company and the BankNewport. They’re sure to get more of an earful on May 31 when the hearing resumes, as more opposing residents were left waiting to address the board when Vice Chairman Bruce Kogan suspended debate at 11 p.m.
Many of the residents opposing the plan live in the Fales Road neighborhood directly across the street from the proposed Dunkin’ location. One after another, they told the board members of long waits just to turn out of their neighborhood onto congested Hope Street, and that’s before a high-volume drive-thru coffee and doughnut shop is built in front of the existing Dunkin’, which has no drive-thru.
“Most of these people here are here because they believe this Dunkin’ Donuts is being placed in the wrong location,” said Alidio Contente, who led a petition drive to stop the plans. “The petition doesn’t say eliminate the Dunkin’ Donuts; it says they do not want that Dunkin’ Donuts in that location. If they want to put it somewhere else, fine. But not there.”
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Mr. Contente, father of Town Administrator Steven Contente, has been the leader of the neighborhood’s opposition, and he held the floor for two hours Thursday night, detailing the residents’ opposition in a lengthy report he prepared for each board member.
He and his supporters decry a traffic study commissioned by Dunkin’ Donuts owner Christopher Prezeres, a Seekonk, Mass., man who owns several of the stores, including the existing one in Gooding Plaza he wants to replace. Traffic engineer Joseph Giordano determined in a study he conducted on a Thursday morning in December 2015 that the restaurant’s impact on traffic would be minimal, despite nearly doubling the number of trips into and out of Gooding Plaza. Area residents say their voices are not heard in the study, and they have said it should have been conducted during the busy summer tourist season when traffic is multiplied.
“The study makes it sound like traffic is not a problem and implies that the area can handle more traffic,” Mr. Contente said. “If you read the study, you will see the neighborhood was never considered. There can be delays of up to 10 minutes. I’ve seen it 7, 8, 9 cars stacked on Fales Road. I’ve been there for 10 minutes. So I’m not very happy with the so-called study.”
In addition to the residents, town officials, including the town administrator, Police Chief Josue Canario and Fire Chief Michael DeMello, spoke in opposition to the plan, warning of an increase in traffic in an already difficult area to traverse, and an increased response time from the Defiance Hose Company, which protects the northwest part of Bristol, Chestnut Street, including the high school, the Colt State Park area and Poppasquash.
“There’s no doubt in my mind, the more traffic that’s there, the more difficult it is to get to that station and respond in a timely manner,” Chief DeMello said, noting Defiance is already the most difficult station in town to access. “Any time you are trying to exit a firetruck onto a heavily traveled thoroughfare, it is difficult. It is a problem today, and will probably continue to be a problem in the future.”
Police Chief Canario urged the Zoning Board to wait on any decision until the state Department of Transportation releases an independent traffic study he and the Town Council had previously requested. Community Development Director Diane Williamson reported that a private company has conducted a study and is expected to submit it to the DOT Friday. It could take up to a month before the DOT releases the study.
“My concerns are to be able to get fire personnel to that location. They don’t have lights and sirens. People sometimes just don’t get out of your way (even with sirens),” Chief Canario said, noting traffic in town can be a “total nightmare” for police, especially during the Fourth of July celebration. “The prudent thing here to do is make sure we have all good data to work with. I would ask that before you vote on anything, you look at that report. I’ve been working in this town for 31 years, and the traffic has never gotten any better.”
Other members of volunteer Defiance Hose company told of the difficulty just getting to the station to jump on the truck for a fire call. Then, they’ll have to find somewhere to park after a Dunkin’ Donuts is built in their parking spaces. Even in the fire engine with lights and sirens going, there are delays caused by traffic jams and inconsiderate drivers that will only worsen if the Dunkin’ is built, they said.
“Why on Earth would you build it if you didn’t expect it to bring more traffic?,” said firefighter David Coccio. “It’s only going to further slow down our response time.”
Just one resident was at the meeting Thursday to speak in favor of the new Dunkin’ Donuts, and even he changed his tune before the end of the night. Speaking first, Kevin Centazzo, owner of consignment store Just Ducky in the plaza, initially applauded the extra business the Dunkin’ would bring to the plaza and the improvements to the area a shiny new building would represent. By the end of the meeting, Mr. Centazzo wanted to speak again, to “rebut himself.” While he wasn’t able to speak again, he emailed the Bristol Phoenix later Thursday to refute his original remarks.
“I was told it would bring much needed business to the plaza where I run a business. Well, after hearing all the testimonials and all the ramifications and repercussions tonight, I don't think any of it is worth it. It's not worth any extra business,” Mr. Centazzo wrote. “After hearing everyone speak and all the issues entangled in this free-standing Dunkin’, I don't think it's worth doing something that we can't undo.”
Town Administrator Contente added his voice to the chorus of opposition, noting the impact on the surrounding neighborhood, the fire company, and even other businesses in the plaza. The location of the Dunkin’ Donuts would make it more difficult for tractor trailer trucks to access the rear of the plaza, where they make deliveries, he said. It’s simply the wrong place, he told board members.
“I think this proposal is about profit for one or two individuals at the expense of many in the neighborhood,” Steven Contente said, reminding the board members that the town of Bristol actually owns the plaza. “The residents are actually the lessor. I think that allows us some standing. The concept of a Dunkin’ Donuts there is not a bad one in the plaza. The concept of putting it where it is is the issue. I strongly believe in economic development, but at the same time, I don’t think we want to change the character.”
Others agreed the location is the issue, suggesting Mr. Prezeres consider building the store elsewhere in the plaza, perhaps on the eastern end near the Peoples Credit Union, where customers can more easily access the plaza from the Gooding Avenue entrance.
Other resident comments include:
- Ralph Ferrara, of Valley Drive: “I’m deeply concerned about the negative impact this new free-standing building with a drive-thru will have on my neighborhood, Gooding Plaza and the surrounding areas. Don’t be intimidated by the game of hardball.”
- Brian Willner, of Kingswood Road: “My kids and I use that crosswalk quite a bit. People are going to be leaving the drive-thru, while putting their wallets away, driving right into that crosswalk. Putting in neon lights and serving drivers who are out on the road at 11 p.m. will seriously impact the character of the surrounding area.”
- Jaqueline Babyak, of Fales Road: “I think we should take the police and fire chief into consideration. They are the experts. The fire department is of great value to the people of Bristol. When it comes down to deciding whether we should have a fire station that can respond faster or we have a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru, I think you need to consider that. The summer traffic is so bad that we can barely get out of Fales Road.”
- John Halaburda, of Hope Street: “They mentioned the park traffic, but also what contributes is when people try to get out of Fales Road, they get frustrated so they take a right to go to Valley Drive and turn around. On Hope Street, we have to back out of our driveways. We have to deal with pedestrian traffic, bicycles, cars. It gets worse every year. Plus the trees block your vision. Sidewalks are atrocious; people walk in the roads. With all these hazards, we don’t need more traffic on Hope Street. We just can’t deal with any more traffic.”
- George Clark, of Valley Drive: “I’m concerned with potential changes construction may have on the water table. If any construction in that area has any impacts to the existing water table, I am literally sunk. We’re all running sump pumps now we never ran before.”
- Nelson Luis, first lieutenant of Defiance: “One of my biggest concerns is the safety of my crew and the public. The protocol now is to have two people jump out and stop traffic. It’s a different breed of drivers now. People are always in a rush and they don’t pay attention to emergency vehicles anymore. This Dunkin’ Donuts is just going to increase frustration for drivers and decrease public safety. People are going to be parking in fire lanes with the lack of parking for the Dunkin’ Donuts. You’re putting a lot of people at risk of getting hurt.”
- Richard Oakland, of Peckham Place: “It disturbs me to think there is a possibility of a delay in fire trucks reaching my place.”
- William Robert VanVoast, of Fales Road, clerk at Defiance: “All we ask is let us get to our station. I have done everything I can do to make this town safe, to protect people in it. To block entrance to our station, to treat us like second-class citizens, I can’t fathom that. If this gets passed, it’s going to be catastrophic for the hose company.”