Abutters call auto parts store ‘ugly,’ bad fit for Portsmouth
O’Reilly Auto Parts wants to build shop next to Dollar General
PORTSMOUTH — It’s ugly.
National chainstores don’t belong in Portsmouth.
The building will create more stormwater runoff and light pollution.
The business has a history of improperly disposing of hazardous waste and overcharging customers.
Those were just some of the charges local residents leveled Wednesday night against O’Reilly Auto Parts, which wants to locate a shop just north of the Dollar General Store on East Main Road.
Not even Planning Board members, who voted 5-1 to send a favorable advisory opinion regarding the project to the Zoning Board of Review, could muster up much enthusiasm for the application by Portsmouth RI Commercial, LLC to build a 7,250-square-foot store just north of Sprague Street.
“What’s the pleasure of the board? Not that any of us are going into this enthusiastically …” said Planning Board Chairman Guy Bissonnette after testimony was complete. His statement was followed by several seconds of silence before a motion was finally made for the favorable opinion, which came with several conditions regarding lighting, landscaping and screening for an abutter.
Despite all the opposition, board members said their hands were tied because O’Reilly had a right to develop the property as long as the developer conformed to zoning regulations.
“We don’t have the grounds to say (no),” said board member Edward Lopes, Jr.
It was reminiscent of the Dollar General proposal that was approved the zoning board in 2015. Many local residents were opposed to the chain store coming here, but the property is zoned commercial and the store met all the criteria for a special-use permit, zoning board members said.
The zoning board will hear the application for the O’Reilly store at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 20, at Town Hall.
“This is just an advisory opinion,” Mr. Bissonnette reminded audience members, adding that abutters can attend the zoning board hearing “to have another crack at them.”
Looking for bigger building
Portsmouth RI Commercial is seeking to amend a 2015 special-use permit it received from the zoning board to build a Dollar General Store along with a 6,000-square-foot building that was originally intended for a bank and restaurant on 2.9 acres of land.
The developer, Gary Eucalitto of Torrington, Conn., now wants to add 1,250 square feet to the second building but use it for one purpose only — an O’Reilly Auto Parts store.
The Missouri-based chain, founded in 1957, has nearly 5,000 locations nationwide. It’s nearest shops are in Fall River, Warwick, Coventry and Providence.
Mr. Eucalitto said there will 28 parking spaces — fewer than what would be needed for a restaurant and bank. “We typically see five or six cars in the driveway at any given time,” he said of an O’Reilly store, which is usually open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
A good portion of Wednesday’s discussion centered around aesthetics, based on architectural renderings of the proposed store that were on display.
“As far as an O’Reilly store goes, it’s a good-looking one,” said Vice Chairman Luke Harding, adding that the Dollar General, also developed by Mr. Eucalitto, is also the nicest one he’s seen.
Still, they were both “disappointing” in their overall appearance, said Mr. Harding, who was being kind compared to some comments from abutters.
“My objection is that it’s an extremely ugly building,” said David Goetzinger of 2908 East Main Road, who lives about three-quarters of a mile south of the development. “I don’t think any licensed architect would want his name on this.”
East Main Road is “the town’s front door,” said Mr. Goetzinger, but it’s “becoming more and more unattractive.” Businesses like Dollar General save individual taxpayers only “about 80 cents a year,” which doesn’t justify their presence in Portsmouth, he said.
“You’re making the town ugly, and for what purpose? This is not what we want,” he said.
Mr. Bissonnette said while he shared Mr. Goetzinger’s opinion on the building’s appearance, “we do not have aesthetic zoning” in Portsmouth. Changing the zoning ordinance is a matter for the Town Council, he said, adding that perhaps the current updating of the town’s comprehensive community plan will address the matter.
When Goetzinger suggested the board “say no anyway,” Mr. Bissonnette replied that the town would most likely be sued and lose, which would cost taxpayers dearly.
Denise Wilkey, who lives at 3140 East Main Road and owns property at 28 Sprague St., directly across from Dollar General, said she was also against another national store coming to Portsmouth.
“Do we really have to fill every commercial inch in this town with chain stores?” she asked.
‘Gillette Stadium lighting’
Paul Kesson, who lives across the street from the development at 3241 East Main Road, said he was mainly concerned about lighting and runoff from the property.
“The lighting pole behind the building at Dollar General shines over the roof and into my bedroom,” said Mr. Kesson, who compared the business’ lighting scheme to “Gillette Stadium.”
Should the plan for the auto parts store be approved, Mr. Kesson suggested the lights for the store be lowered to four feet to keep them from shining outside the property line. He said the lights should be for the safety of pedestrians anyway, not drivers.
The board agreed to impose restrictions on lighting as part of its favorable opinion. It also ordered the developer to replant arborvitae on Mr. Kesson’s property to help block any stray light — a condition first imposed when Dollar General was approved.
Mr. Kesson said he was also concerned that the new business would have a sign like Dollar General’s, which is illuminated from within rather than by an exterior light. Mr. Harding agreed, saying the town “didn’t get what it wanted” when Dollar General was approved.
Mr. Eucalitto said the tenant, not the developer, applies for the sign. He agreed, however, that the board should have gotten the sign that it wanted.
Mr. Kesson also complained about poor drainage in the area, saying water is coming from under East Main Road and onto his property. Mr. Eucalitto, however, said he doesn’t belief the new building will make things any worse.
“We’ve actually reduced runoff with underground retention,” he said.
Peggy Mercer, who lives directly across from Dollar General at 3217 East Main Road, raised concerns over O’Reilly’s handling of hazardous waste.
In December 2016, she pointed out, a California superior court judge ordered the chain to pay a nearly $10 million settlement after it was accused of improperly disposing of used oil and other hazardous waste throughout the state.
“I am very concerned about the safety of them coming in with that kind of track record,” Ms. Mercer said.
In another lawsuit, O’Reilly settled for $1.5 million in 2014 after being accused of overcharging hundreds of customers, she said.
“They’re repeat offenders,” Ms. Mercer said. “I don’t think that’s the kind of business we need to bring into town.”
The board voted 5-1, with Mr. Harding against, to send a favorable opinion of the application to the zoning board. Board member Kathleen Wilson was absent from the meeting.