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.