Town Meeting voters will make a decision on amending the Agricultural Preservation Restriction at the former Drew Gardens site to allow a proposed restaurant there. On Thursday night, a trio of local government boards met to discuss several other obstacles that restaurant will face before it becomes a reality.
Moderated by Director of Land Use Planning Chris Kluchman, the Zoning Board of Appeals, Planning Board and Conservation Board met simultaneously to hear a preliminary overview of the proposed restaurant and ask their questions along with members of the public.
Kluchman described the meeting of the first of its kind in her five years working in Westford, but noted that the project would need to go before each of the boards in any case and this joint meeting in the Millennium School would help members of each board gain a broader understanding of the project with minimal effort.
Each board asked questions and posed comments related to their board’s oversight responsibilities on the project. These included, but weren’t limited to, a variance to allow commercial activity in a residentially zoned piece of land, relief from a 35-foot maximum height requirement in comparable properties to allow for a more than 40-foot farm silo, a permit for a major commercial permit, a site plan review, a stormwater management plan review, a water resource overlay district, a signage waiver, and a wetlands impact review.
Eventually, work will also have to be done studying traffic impacts of the restaurant, with the most recent data from the parcel being approximately a decade old.
Other conditions are also expected ranging from $50,000 to compensate the town for money it spent on the original agricultural restriction in the 1990s when the property was sold to the installation of sidewalks up Boston Road within the next five years.
A presentation on the proposed farm-to-table restaurant was led by Groton resident Ebi Masalehdan and included details ranging from farming practices to occur on site to architectural details.
Currently, the restaurant will consist of two floors, each with approximately 14,000 sq. ft of space and a third floor with approximately 6,000 sq. ft.
The first floor, a basement that will be only accessible from the western part of the building, will house farming equipment to be used on-site as well as an area to prepare locally harvested foods for the restaurant above.
The second floor would house the restaurant’s kitchen, a function center and seating, with additional seating on the third floor giving a view through the ceiling of the kitchen.
Including bar seating, the restaurant is slated to have 220 seats, with an additional 85 seats in the function area.
Approximately 150 spaces have proposed in the building’s parking lot, with plans attempting to alleviate the current five percent slope heading westward from Boston Road.
The surface material of the parking lot was also a matter of discussion regarding stormwater permeability and the plan’s representatives indicated that the lot is small enough that snow will have to be taken off site during large storms.
Both the restaurant and parking area will only take up the southern third of the property, with the northern six acres being used for high-tensile orchards, a greenhouse and various ground crops.
This area would be managed from Jamie Cruz of Springdell Farms, a fourth generation farmer who was in attendance during the meeting to provide information on the facilities proposed agricultural practices.
Cruz told members of the three boards as well as members of the public that items grown on the property would use only organic methods and water usage would be kept to a minimum.
Zoning Board of Appeals Member Scott MacKay urged the applicants to meet with neighbors prior to future meetings to make sure the restaurant fits in with the neighborhood, but several local residents were already at the meeting to voice a mixed set of praise and concerns.
Bob Jefferies of Boston Road wondered if the town had violated state law for not allowing other restaurateurs to potentially offer more than $50,000. Several residents had concerns with the scope of the project and its aesthetics. One man said the restaurant would impact his children.
Yet others, such as Emily Teller of Texas Road, gave kudos to Masalehdan for his pledge to recycle materials currently on site in the new building.
All three boards continued their hearings to dates after Annual Town Meeting, although if voters reject the amendment to the Agricultural Preservation Restriction, the restaurant would not be allowed to occupy the southern third of the property legally and the application for the restaurant would likely be withdrawn.