Despite Orient Heights Neighborhood Council (OHNC) members voting 18-6-1 against placing a drive thru at the Dunkin Donuts on Bennington Street in Orient Heights the Boston Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) approved the project anyway.
The members who voted against the project, which included a handful of direct abutters to the project, cited traffic as the primary concern. However, those who voted against applauded Dunkin Donuts’ plans to upgrade the building and add outdoor seating but said the drive thru may add more congestion to an already congested street.
At Tuesday’s ZBA hearing it was revealed that the ZBA never received a letter from the OHNC and no evidence of the community’s vote against the project was included in the packet provided to the ZBA.
This revelation has some OHNC members peeved and questioning the community process.
“So much for transparency and accountability,” said OHNC member Mary Berninger, who voted against the drive thru plans. “One would think that was something that should have been done earlier. I remain convinced that the process was intrinsically flawed and, quite frankly, skewed to benefit the proponent.”
The ZBA chairman even seemed surprised when OHNC members opposed to the project told the ZBA that the community group with jurisdiction over the project voted against the drive thru plans.
“Then, they proceeded to a vote. No deliberation. No discussion among themselves,” said Berninger. “No. Let’s just vote and move on to the next item on the agenda. This is not helpful to the community and today’s hearing illustrates that the process needs to be revisited. I would like to commend, though, the lone board member who voted against the proposal.”
Owners of the Dunkin Donuts are planning a $550,000 renovation to the interior and exterior of the current 13,000 sq. ft. building and wanted to add a drive thru as an added amenity.
Attorney for Dunkin Donuts, Jeff Drago, said the building would receive a new façade, stone, work, new attractive lighting, and added greenspace in and around the parking lot. The interior will be completely overhauled and add more seating for customers.
There would also be an addition of café-style outdoor seating in front of the restaurant.
However, the owners needed zoning relief for the drive thru aspect of the plan.
The popular Orient Heights coffee shop at 951 Bennington St. would add an entrance point in its existing parking lot for the drive thru. Those exiting the drive thru would be able to only turn right onto Bennington St. according to the designs.
Abutters like Alice Christopher who have lived for decades across Bennington Street from Dunkin Donuts said she likes the coffee shop but did not think it needs a drive thru. Christopher produced a letter from transportation guru Fred Salvucci who sided with residents opposing the drive thru.
Salvuci said traffic would be significantly exacerbated by a drive thru during peak traffic hours and would not only adversely affect Eastie traffic but Winthrop traffic as well.