CHICOPEE — The Planning Board has approved plans for a hotly contested second roadhouse on Burnett Road following a three-hour meeting that drew more than 50 people.
The decision was made Thursday evening after a dozen people raised concerns about traffic and some questioned why Pilot Travel, a national company based in Tennessee, wanted to set up a second truck stop essentially next to an existing relay owned by Pride.
There were some hostile moments, especially at the start of the meeting, but at the end, President Michael Sarnelli thanked the residents for their politeness. It allowed for more back-and-forth chat than usual so residents could ask the developers questions.
“Hundreds of my constituents oppose it. It’s not in the interest of the neighborhood. It’s just too dangerous,” said Councilman Derek Dobosz, who represents the Burnett Road area.
Pilot Travel plans to build an 11,421 square foot travel center that includes a 16-pump gas station for vehicles, a seven-position refueling area for tractor-trailer trucks, a Wendy’s restaurant, and other amenities such as a convenience store and showers for truckers.
The stop is rather designed for short-term stops. There will be no overnight parking, the developers said.
The property, located at 357 Burnett Road near the intersection of the Massachusetts Turnpike and Route 291, is zoned commercial and industrial and was previously licensed for a mixed-use project including a hotel, gas station and several restaurants. Investors pulled out of the project when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
The Planning Board, which approved a preliminary site plan in May, did not have the ability to stop the project since the plot is zoned business and commercial and the development is a permitted use. City planner Lee Pouliot explained that the Planning Board was primarily responsible for ensuring plans adhered to local regulations for things such as parking, landscaping and stormwater management.
The Planning Board approved the plans in a 5-0 vote. They added several conditions to the plan, as recommended by city department heads who reviewed it. The company also won’t be able to receive a certificate of occupancy until it finalizes agreements with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and Eversource.
The city council has yet to approve a proposed above-ground fuel tank of about 40 gallons. But the original developers have already received a permit for a smaller underground fuel tank. They will also need a service station license from the council, which is considered routine.
One after another, residents spoke out against the proposal. Most spoke of the heavy traffic and constant backups the neighborhood faces and the decades-long efforts to quell traffic on the highway, which channel traffic from the Massachusetts Turnpike and Route 291.
Residents also set up a Facebook page in an attempt to stop the truck stop and even took out a Facebook announcement reminding of the meeting.
David Amo, who lives near Burnett Road, said the development will attract the ‘wrong kind of traffic’, saying the town needs something to entice people to stop, hang out and spend some money. money in local businesses.
Ronald Crevier said he used to work in Ludlow and found it nearly impossible to find a traffic break on Burnett Road so he could turn right into the street. The traffic has only gotten worse since then.
“My concern is that adding 20 more trucks, 30 trucks going to 291 or going down to the tollway to wait to turn into that location is going to block the entire exit from the mass tollway,” a he declared.
Residents also demanded that an independent traffic survey be carried out, instead of the traffic assessment carried out by VHB, the engineering firm hired by Travel Pilot.
But Joseph Balskus, traffic engineer for the company, explained that there is little difference between an assessment and a study. It’s comprehensive at over 100 pages, was state-approved, and was based on pre-pandemic traffic counts, which are higher than current numbers.
There is no doubt that the project will increase traffic, but it will be essentially the same as the traffic that was expected to be generated by the previously approved development.
When several pointed out how truck traffic creates bottlenecks when several large rigs try to pull out of the Pride truck stop, Balskus argued that a traffic light and other improvements to the intersection, funded by the state economic development agency MassWorks, will prevent much of the backups.
“I can’t accept that this is a done deal. Why come to such a hostile area?” asked Kevin Roberts, who lives near Burnett Road.
Patrick Deptula, Pilot Travel’s vice president of development, said the location was an excellent location for a travel hub.
“I’m confident that when we’re done we’ll be a good neighbour,” Deptula said.