Dance studio's fate in Westport hinges on Route 6 access

Planners again balk at using narrow Pleasant Street for studio traffic

By Bruce Burdett
Posted 8/8/19

WESTPORT — Nine feet, a most challenging nine feet along State Road (Route 6), is apparently all that prevents the Planning Board from allowing a Westport couple to move their Fall River dance …

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Dance studio's fate in Westport hinges on Route 6 access

Planners again balk at using narrow Pleasant Street for studio traffic

Posted

WESTPORT — Nine feet, a most challenging nine feet along State Road (Route 6), is apparently all that prevents the Planning Board from allowing a Westport couple to move their Fall River dance studio to property they own at 699 State Road.

After a second hearing recently, the Planning Board told applicants Lisa and Paul Chace and their engineer that it wants them to go back to MassDOT (Department of Transportation) and try harder to convince the state to allow studio dance studio traffic to come and go directly via driveway access onto Route 6.

Planners prefer that option because, at the previous hearing on May 21, Pleasant Street neighbors objected to using narrow (16-foot), dead-end Pleasant Street as a dance studio access route. The road is too small, they said, children play in it, and headlights would shine into houses at all hours.

At the close of that hearing, the board directed the Chaces’ engineer, Sean Leach (Sitech Engineering), to go back to MassDOT and ask again that they be allowed to use a driveway that already reaches their property as the access directly to Route 6.

“I would like you to sell it to them,” Planning Board Chairman James Whitin said then and repeated last week.

He did just that the first time, Mr. Leach reported back last week, but didn’t get very far.

“They won’t outright deny” such a request, he said, but “they tell us you have to meet their standards.” And that, he added, can go on and on and around and around at great length and expense.

That driveway, he learned, would require 84 feet of width — 24 feet for road width and 60 feet for turning radius on each side. That is nine feet more than the available road frontage on their land.

What’s more, Mr. Leach said, they might have to move a telephone pole and catch basin at a potential cost of $100,000.

Town Planner James Hartnett agreed that convincing MassDOT will be a challenge. He wrote to them as well about the situation and the reply suggested that “getting a waiver would be extremely difficult.

Several on the board questioned the need to move pole and catch basin but also said the effort to convince the state to allow access worth the trouble and delay.

“This neighborhood is unfortunately in a business zone but it is still a neighborhood and we are still concerned about it,” Mr. Whitin said. Putting this in there without exploring every possible option (for traffic access) does a disservice to Westport.”

He also wondered why this change of use (from house to dance studio) would trigger such tight standards from Mass DOT, when another residence that uses the same entrance driveway was transformed into four business units without issue.

Neighbor Greg Shaw, who owns the lot to the east, said he would gladly grant a variance or do whatever it takes, to provide the needed nine feet.

“I’d rather do that than have them use the access on Pleasant Street, he said.

“This is the point we want to make to MassDOT,” board member John Bullard said. “That their rigidity over nine feet because they are not willing to make a waiver that they are allowed to make, on an issue triggered by a change of use, is going to impose a change of use on a residential neighborhood.”

Mr. Whitin urged Mr. Leach to seek some “political pull” in the form of support from the town’s state representative and senator. And he said neighbors and board members should be invited along when the matter is presented to MassDOT — he said he would be happy to go.

Mr. Chace asked, to no avail, that the board make a decision on the application that evening,

“The last thing I want to do is put out the neighborhood — I don’t want to destroy any neighborhoods … The main impetus for us to move from Fall river is to avoid the crime that has infested Fall River. We need to get my wife (a Westport native) and her students out of Fall River.”

“I support new businesses in Westport and I think that this can be a good location,” Mr. Whitin said. I think it would be better for the neighborhood and your business if we could get the state to allow access from Route 6.

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