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Drive-thru proposal drives concerned residents to hearing

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

LONGMEADOW The Planning Board has a tough decision ahead of them regarding the approval of a drive-thru lane and canopy for the Hampden Bank inside the Longmeadow Legal Associates plaza at the corner of Maple and Shaker roads.

The public hearing that took place March 20 involved nearly one dozen concerned citizens who were not in favor of installing the drive-thru and canopy.

Bill Marsh, senior vice president of Hampden Bank, explained that the bank has been looking to add another branch in Longmeadow and want to facilitate their customers with a drive-thru.

"This location is unique and will fulfill the needs of having a bank at this end of town," Marsh stated.

The branch already in existence is located at 475 Longmeadow St.

Marsh, along with Charlie Miller of the NES Group and Michael Joyce of Cavanaro Consulting, had met with the Planning Board to discuss the proposal. Since that first meeting, plans were reworked to shrink the size of the canopy, ensure pedestrian safety and direct traffic flow.

Nearby residents had additional concerns, however.

Norice Smith, who abuts the plaza on the Shaker Road side, and Tim Gould, who abuts on the Maple Road side, both voiced their concerns with the proposed plans.

Smith's largest concern had to do with the flow of traffic for the drive-thru. The current proposal will allow vehicles to circle behind the building to get to the teller window and automated teller machine (ATM) by way of the building's fire lane.

"The fire department went along with this use of the fire lane?" she asked.

"They were fine with it," Planning Board Chair Walter Gunn replied. "The fire code allow for use of the lane for a drive-thru."

Smith said she thought that was "a terrible plan."

"I don't believe the fire lane should be used," she told Reminder Publications. "And I think people will find it uncomfortable with the route [for drive-thru use]." She added that the bank will be an asset to the neighborhood, she just thinks right now it is improperly placed.

Gould, whose home would be closest to the drive-thru, had more issues, however.

"I think my property value will drop like a rock with this drive-thru," Gould told the Planning Board. "I'm the one taking a shellacking." He said the lights from the drive-thru canopy, the headlights of vehicles using the drive-thru at night and the emissions from idling vehicles waiting to use the ATM would contribute to his property value's downfall.

The Planning Board suggested putting up a stockade fence to alleviate some of Gould's concerns.

"I thought the fence would be a benefit ... I personally think it protects you," Roy Johansen, Planning Board member, told Gould. Gunn also told Gould that if a fence were put up, he would be approached for where and what kind of fence would be installed.

Marsh said he can't really predict the traffic flow for the ATM because it varies so much.

"A branch in Wilbraham gets 30 cars through its drive-thru over the course of the day," Marsh stated, adding that between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. there is virtually no traffic using the drive-thru.

"This is about stewardship," resident Don Cash stated. He said planners and builders did not think ahead when they were laying out the area in question in the 1970s and he told the Planning Board that they should continue to expand businesses there.

"The lots are too small, the parking is too small," Cash said. "It prostitutes the neighborhood."

William Scibelli, who has owned the plaza since 1996, told those at the public hearing that he is trying to maintain the business integrity of the property.

"I try to make the property as beneficial to the neighborhood as possible," Scibelli said. "Having Hampden Bank here is a win-win, as a landlord and for the building itself."

He added that if the bank were not there, he's had Iron Chef and Belmont Laundry "banging down the doors to expand."

Once the public hearing was closed, Gunn said, "We are concerned with the abutters' quality of life and public safety issues. We will continue this discussion at our next meeting."

The Planning Board will be meeting again on April 10 at 7 p.m. in the Police Station Community Room.