November 30, 2006

Mixed Reviews for Walgreen’s Hamilton Street Plaza Expansion Plans

I'm just back from a public hearing on the proposed renovation of the Walgreen's plaza in Saxonville (north Framingham), which call for a pharmacy drive-through of all things, as well as spiffing up the exterior of the building, a slight expansion of the building (around 5' x 12' if I can read my writing correctly) and a significant expansion of Walgreen's into some space now occupied from other tenants (likely to include the florist and Sovereign Bank ATM).

That's the wrong place for a drive-through, period. And I said so during the public comment period of the hearing. Despite some aesthetic issues for the streetscape and occasionally scary street crossings, that's one of the most walkable neighborhoods in town, with many buildings up at the sidewalk instead of set back in suburban-sprawl design. It's got a real village feel, and the last thing we should be encouraging there is drive-through. As I said at the hearing, people can get out of their cars.

The developer presentation of the project included a lot of discussion of traffic flow and not one word about pedestrians. Very disappointing if not surprising. Although happily, several Planning Board members brought it up and so did several members of the public (not just me!).

The plan currently includes no walking path from the sidewalk to the stores - it's clearly a design solely for cars, even though a lot of people walk there: school kids, churchgoers, nearby residents, nearby office workers. In fact, the proposed landscaping makes it harder to get to the stores from the sidewalk, since the only break in the landscaping I saw was for the vehicle driveways. In other words, it funnels the pedestrians in through the busy car driveways, for stores in the heart of a compact residential neighborhood. Argh!

The curb cut at the corner of Hamilton and School streets would be taken away, leaving only two ways to get in and out of the shopping center, on either end. The plan on Hamilton Street, next to the apartments, is for a three-lane driveway and 36-foot curb cut, allowing two lanes out and one turning in. I spoke strongly against that, complaining that it's a Rte. 9- or Rte. 30-style curb cut in a residential neighborhood, and would have a strong negative impact on the sidewalk and pedestrian activity there.

My final point: You currently can't even walk on a contiguous sidewalk from one side of the plaza (Walgreens) around the corner to the other (Pizza Wagon). The sidewalk is narrow and not contiguous, and even where there is a sliver of walkway, often cars park so the front ends are over the walkway and block the sidewalk. That really needs to be fixed.

I am happy about the planned investment in the neighborhood, and glad that Walgreens will be improved there. Town Meeting member Norma Shulman was sorry about some of the other businesses that may have to leave for the Walgreens expansion - she rightly pointed out that the area currently has a village center feel, and losing the variety of small businesses that offer residents many different services would indeed be a loss. I see the point, but on the other side, having a pharmacy there is a definite plus, and these days, it's tough to get such stores to stay in too small a space. Losing the anchor tenant wouldn't be a particularly great thing right now, with an anchor pennant spot already vacant in nearby Nobscot.

In any case, Planning Board Chair Ann Victoria Welles said she came away with two impressions from the public comment portion of the hearing: concern about the presence of children on the site and their safety, and issues surrounding pedestrians in general on the site. So that's a start. There will be outside consultants reviewing the project, and the next hearing is scheduled for Jan. 4.


  1. It's too bad they can't negotiate with Walgreens to abandon the drive up plan. I'm sure if pressure were used, possibly by using the new one on Waverly St. as a wedge, things could be changed. If Walgreens is made to feel as thought their entire Framingham market is against such expansion, maybe they'll behave themselves.

  2. I wasn't the only one who spoke against the drive-through. I hope the Planning Board got the message that a drive-through is totally inappropriate for the neighborhood in general and that site in particular.

  3. Imagine if a mini shopping plaza were to go into the former lumber yard, now apparently abandoned. One good thing, there isn't usually any traffic backups around that intersection. I have seen cars backed up on Hamilton St. all the way back to Old Conn Path though.

  4. This is a great opportunity to fix traffic in this area and the plan needs to take a lot more than Walgreen's in to account. While I too hate to see viable businesses like the florist being forced out Walgreens could expand (and maybe the florist gets an incentive to move in to the soon to be vacated video store- no official word but rumor has been foating for a while) then push the building out along the Sovereign ATM end a bit. Get rid of the entrance at the corner of Hamilton and School AND have the town put pressure on St George's to make that their entrance and NOT exit, and this corner instantly becomes a lot safer.

    The rebuild needs to have real sidewalks both along the building AND on the roads, remove many of the cross walks (there are seven within a 1/4 mile so you never know where and when someone will simply step off the curb to cross. Don't do the usual crazy over-treeing of the curb lines - Framingham's planning has gotten so plant crazy that sightlines are shot as soon as the leaves come in and it is VERY dangerous. Clear, simple traffic plans need to take precendent over pretty plants. Don't get me wrong on plantings - have the developer plant a like number somewhere all can benefit like a school or park. The serious pedestrian injury a few years back at the old Wild Harvest is 100% the fault of our crazed-for-plants-over-logical-traffic-pattern attitude here in town.