SOUTHWICK – Although the Southwick Planning Board has not yet rendered a decision on a request to expand the Pride station on College Highway, Pride owner Robert Bolduc filed an injunction against the town for not granting his modification request.
Bolduc submitted plans over the summer to completely revamp the station, located at 198 College Highway at the intersection of Congamond Road. Upgrades include an additional pump station, to total four stations with 16 pumps, and building a 2,400 square-foot convenience store.
Town Planner Marcus Phelps said the proposal requires a special permit and variances. He said there is a need for a variance because of the setback required on two sides of the corner lot. There is also residential property on two sides. The plans Bolduc submitted make the lot more non-conforming.
The proposal is complicated further because there are wetlands on the property. Phelps said the use of the land as a gas station predates zoning bylaws.
“The zoning bylaws were adopted in 1950,” said Phelps. “There was a garage there, and in 1970 the three pumps were converted to self-serve. At that time – I’m not sure why – but they did not grant a special permit.”
Marcus was not sure when the garage became a Pride station. However, he said in 1988 they added the small kiosk under the canopy that exists today.
In August, the first of several public hearings was held on the Pride proposal. Phelps said the Planing Board told Bolduc he needed to receive variances from the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA).
“So we continued the hearing to see what the Board of Appeals would do,” Phelps said.
In the meantime, Planing Board Chairman Douglas Moglin closed the public hearing on Nov. 15. On Nov. 22, the Board of Appeals granted variances to Pride, including the setback.
“Prior to that decision, Mr. Bolduc filed his lawsuit,” said Phelps.
The suit was filed by Attorney Robert Aronson on Nov. 10 and names the town, Planning Board and ZBA. The lawsuit states that Bolduc believed “the Southwick Planning Board will deny” his proposal.
Moglin said the hearing was closed Nov. 15 because Bolduc refused to extend the hearing.
“We asked Mr. Bolduc to extend the hearing and he said no,” sad Moglin.
Moglin said the proposed expansion is complicated because it is a pre-existing, non-conforming property, something he said Bolduc knew when he purchased the business in the early 2000’s.
When the project was first proposed back in August, the Planning Board contacted town counsel immediately to make sure the process went according to laws, because of the need for special permitting and variances.
“We did everything we were supposed to do,” said Moglin. “We tried to help the project along and we don’t see the same reciprocity from the applicant to help himself along. It seems counter-intuitive to me. It was not an adversarial situation on our part. It just takes time.”
Because Bolduc opted out of extending the hearing, the board cannot consider any new plans or the variances in making its decision.
A court date is set for Dec. 20, which is the same day the Planning Board is scheduled to take up the item at its regular meeting. Phelps said a “super majority” vote of four out of five members of the board is required to approve a special permit.
Phelps speculated Bolduc has a few options, including withdrawing the plans and submitting a new application, now that variances were granted, and going through the Planning Board process once again.
“That is one option,” said Moglin. “He can submit a letter to request a withdrawal and if approved, he can submit a new application.”
Moglin said if Bolduc did that, he would have the variances in place and know what the board was looking for, to make it a smooth, quick process.
“If it goes to a vote and he does not like our decision, he can appeal. Then it would go to court and most likely come back to us. So, either way, we pretty much have to start over,” Moglin said.
Moglin said the situation is confusing.
“I just don’t understand how you file a lawsuit before you allow the boards to weigh the proposal on its merits,” said Moglin.
Calls to Atty. Aronson were not returned yesterday.