Taylor Blake moved recently from Peabody into a one-bedroom condominium she bought on the second floor at 185 Lafayette St.
She knew that she was moving next door to a convenience store and an insurance agency. On the corner was an old A.L. Prime gas station.
What she did not know was that A.L. Prime has a proposal working its way through the various boards and commissions and ultimately the City Council to demolish all the buildings and build a 1,900-square-foot convenience store that will sell pizza and gas from six, not four pumps, maybe for 24 hours a day. Gasoline delivery trucks will unload the fuel directly below her window several times a day — during the day and at night.
Gone from the view out her window will be a large old tree. In its place will be a dumpster.
Last week, Blake joined the other condominium owners and neighbors behind the gas station and across Lafayette Street in telling the Planning Board how concerned they are about the proposed gas station. A petition signed by 150 neighbors outlined many of their concerns with the project.
“My biggest concern is that I will be looking at a dumpster and exhaust vents (from the 20,000 gallon storage tanks),” she said. “And the large tree. I would like to see that stay.”
She and the other neighbors are also not looking forward to the months of demolition and construction. Some voiced their concern that the new station will draw even more vehicles and customers stopping to buy pizza and other convenience store items. Despite denials from the project's attorney, other neighbors questioned whether the plan was to have a restaurant at the site.
Asked if she would have bought her condominium if she had known what she was getting into, Blake shook her head. “No. I wouldn't have," she said.
She blamed the man who sold her the condo for not telling her about the gas station expansion plans.
A neighbor, David Ramsey, who owns and rents out the house at the rear of the gas station, was frustrated that the convenience store would be built within five feet of the bedroom of the house. He was also upset that the Zoning Board of Appeals has already approved the project.
“This is a small site,” he said. "The addition of a convenience store and six pumps will have a negative impact on the neighbors."
Ramsey complained that Wakefield company, which operates 50 gas stations, has not maintained the current station. There is trash around the site and the fences are allowed to deteriorate, he said.
The board members urged Prime's attorney, George Atkins, to meet with the neighbors to try to resolve their concerns. “We want you to enter into a dialogue with the neighbors,” board member Tim Kavanaugh told Atkins.
Atkins readily agreed, taking the blame for two failed attempts to meet with several of the neighbors. He had met with Ramsey and agreed to build a wall of evergreens along the rear property line on Ramsey's property to block the view and noise from the new station.
“The reason I wanted the trees on my property is because I will water them,” Ramsey said. “Prime won't”
Anthony Guba, the project engineer and Atkins said they would ask the owners to look at relocating the vents from the gas and diesel storage tanks away from the condominiums. They also said they would review if the dumpster could be relocated elsewhere on the property or dispensed with entirely.
Little Chance to Save the Large Tree
Guba said there was little chance they could save the large tree. The proposed landscaping plan calls for them to plant a five-foot-wide row of arborvitae trees along the property line next to the four-unit condominium building.
Blake presented the board a folder of photographs taken from her condo. Among the photos that captured the board members' attention was that of a man urinating on the site.
“This is a horrible existing mess,” said board member Helen Sides, who offered several architectural suggestions to Atkins that might mitigate the impact of the new station on the neighbors.
Although there is a liquor license attached to the property now, Atkins said the new store will not sell alcohol. Board member Randy Clarke said, "there are clearly some benefits in getting rid of a liquor license."
Sides and other board members said they believe that the new store and station will be a big improvement.
"It's going to be a heck of a lot better," board member Mark George said to a skeptical group of neighbors. Sides agreed: "It's tremendously cleaned up."
Of major concern is the delivery trucks, which will service the large tanks at all hours of the day. Board members asked if Prime could limit the deliveries. Atkins said there would be fewer deliveries each week because the underground tanks would be larger. But he said it would be difficult for the company to limit the hours of the deliveries.
“I am really looking forward to having a gas truck unload in the middle of the night several times a week,” groaned one neighbor.
The company would like to operate the six gas pumps 24 hours a day. But that must be approved by the City Council.
The Planning Board will meet again on the gas station on July 21, when it is expected to hear that Atkins and the neighbors have met to discuss ways to resolve their differences.