WILMINGTON—The five-member Development Review Board (DRB) unanimously approved an application for a gas station and Dunkin’ Donuts at 43 East Main St.
Sandri Corp. submitted the application over the summer. The company wants to convert its unstaffed gas station into a staffed pump station and Dunkin’ Donuts.
The DRB issued its approval along with a list of 43 conditions. These included receiving a Fire Permit, a statement from Emergency Medical Services assessing adequate access to the property, and a Wastewater Treatment Sewer Allocation. Conditions also touched on design features, landscaping, traffic congestion, emissions, lighting, and snow removal.
Opening a Dunkin’ Donuts met with opposition from residents and visitors who believed the franchise would diminish the town’s character and hurt local businesses. Almost 400 people signed an online petition through Change.org asking the town to reject the coffee and doughnuts business.
In short, the DRB said to opponents, sorry, but no.
“The DRB does not have a legal basis on which to restrict Dunkin’ Donuts from doing business in the Town of Wilmington,” the members wrote in their 14-page decision.
According to the DRB’s decision, Sandri conformed to Wilmington’s applicable zoning laws.
The company redesigned the Dunkin’ Donuts building to look more “New England style” based on concerns and feedback from the board and public. Lighting will consist of down lighting and turn off when the business is closed to reduce glare.
“Regarding the petition of 373 individuals opposing Dunkin’ Donuts being allowed into Wilmington, the DRB finds that there is no Zoning Regulation to support this position,” the DRB members wrote.
“There are no restrictions on this type of business or regulations requiring unique features,” they continued. “In addition, by law all businesses must be allowed free trade and commerce without prejudice to corporate structure or be in violation of antitrust laws.”
Discussions during the DRB meeting and an August community meeting attended by Sandri’s President Michael Behn and Project Manager Richard Marcks, touched on the issue of Wilmington’s zoning as it pertained to franchises.
The upshot of the discussions was, if people don’t want franchises in town, protesting before the DRB is too little, too late.
At an August 12, DRB hearing, Town Clerk and Selectboard member Susan Haughwout said that the time to tell the municipality what people wanted — or didn’t want — was during the crafting of the Town Plan or drafting of zoning ordinances.
That’s when the public has the most power, she said.
Wendy Manners, DRB member and chair of the Planning Commission agreed. She said the commission drafted language around franchises. The Selectboard has the final approval, but if people don’t speak up, the board won’t know what they want.
The DRB approved the gas station and Dunkin’ Donuts hours of operation as 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sandri had originally requested operating hours of 24/7 then backed down to 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Despite concerns from the public that the previous owner or tenant had dumped toxic chemicals at the site, the DRB did not see enough evidence to launch an independent study.
Ryan Bartlett, speaking as an Interested Person on behalf of other community members was one of the people who spoke to the issue. He requested a Hazardous Waste Survey.
The DRB responded in its decision, “No credible evidence has been provided to support the presence of toxins.”
Behn told the board that the business and 10-seat restaurant with drive-thru will generate 14 jobs. The manager, he told the board, will earn $38,000 to $40,000 while an assistant manager’s pay will range from $13 to $15 an hour. The other positions will earn $10 an hour.
“Sandri Inc. testified that [it] believes that the addition of a Dunkin’ Donuts is essential to make this facility economically viable in that selling gasoline alone [is] no longer an economically viable business model,” wrote the board.
Other community concerns centered on an increase in traffic tie-ups or accidents. The DRB made Sandri responsible for ensuring cars and delivery trucks don’t park in any right-of-way. The board also noted that the Agency of Transportation had already granted the necessary traffic permits.
People seeking to appeal the DRB’s decision have until Oct. 18 to take their case to the Vermont Superior Court, Environmental Division.
Behn said that the company is pleased with the DRB decision.
“We like to be a good citizen in town,” Behn said. For that reason, he said the Sandri Company was happy to adjust the building’s design in response to community feedback.
Sandri will start lining up contractors to rehab and retrofit the existing service station over the next few weeks, he said. Work won’t start, however, until after the appeal period.
The company has had experience with people appealing at the 11th hour, so it’s best to wait, Behn said.
Ideally the new station and Dunkin’ Donuts will be “up and running” by this winter, he said.
Sandri will work with the same franchise owner that operates a number of Dunkin’ Donuts in Massachusetts, including a Sandri pump station in Bernardston, Mass.
The franchise owners and Sandri have pledged to hire people from the local community.
Behn said that initially there was a feeling of hostility from the local community. Now that, and the speeding ticket he received on the way to a community meeting, are water under the bridge, he said.
He grew to enjoy working with people from Wilmington.
“I really enjoyed the collaboration,” he said. “These are wonderful people. I was pleased to see a community that cared.”