An amendment to Phase IV of the Speedwell Redevelopment Plan moved another step forward Thursday night when the Planning Board deemed plans for a CVS Pharmacy at the corner of Speedwell Avenue and Spring Street conformed to the town's Master Plan.
All but one attending Planning Board members approved sending the plan again before the town's Redevelopment Agency, where it is expected to be approved on Dec. 13. Board member Michael Pooler, out of town and attending via telephone, cast the lone "no" vote.
Joseph Stanley, Planning Board chairman, said specific site plans could be ready as soon as January.
The plan is still a ways away from full approval and implementation, professional planner Phil Abramson noted during his presentation. The only item being voted on Thursday was "is the plan consistent with the Master Plan," he said.
Still, despite what Thursday night's vote was moving forward, several Planning Board members raised several questions, including traffic patterns and whether the national pharmacy chain was the best use for a site that has been either underutilized or completely abandoned for decades.
Board member Tim Murphy asked about the turn signal at Speedwell Avenue and Early Street, which he noted "didn't work so well" when it served the entrance to the former Blockbuster store. As a separate part of Phase IV of the Speedwell Redevelopment Plan, that site is slated for residential development, with a shared parking area behind the building.
Abramson said those issues may not even come up down the line should the state Department of Transportation find their own issues with the traffic signal as it is today. The Planning Board would ultimately have final say on such matters, however, he said.
Murphy also worried if the town could be moving to get the plan approved too quickly, because the property has been vacant for so long.
"God knows we need a pharmacy in that area," he said. "However, this is really a lynchpin for Phase IV. I would hate in our eagerness [that we would have regrets] 10 years down the road."
Mayor Tim Dougherty, who also sits on the Planning Board, reminded the board of what had previously been approved on the site. "Everyone agrees a five-story apartment building was not the right fit," he said. "In my opinion, it would have been a disaster for that site."
Abramson noted no developer would have agreed to build the face of such an apartment building away from the road, meaning another tall building would be turning its back on the Second Ward. The planner compared such a project to a second Headquarters Plaza.
"What Headquarters Plaza did to the Second Ward ... it was very bad planning," he said.
What the CVS Pharmacy project would do instead, Abramson said, is "give confidence to the retail market." Before CVS entered the fold, no retailers had expressed interest in the Speedwell Redevelopment Plan. Hence, more residential.
"I think this will probably serve as a catalyst for development there for the next 10 years," Planning Board member Richard Tighe said.
While Murphy agreed the plan met the narrow criteria required for approval Thursday night, he said, "I'll have some huge problems down the road."