WINCHESTER — A years-long battle to build a Dunkin’ Donuts in town is headed back to court in a continued effort by a competitor to block the project.
Along with a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through, the property would house a convenience store and round-the-clock gas pumps, all at the corner of Main Street (Route 10), Warwick Road (Route 78) and Hinsdale Road (Route 119) in Winchester.
Teofilo Salema of S.S. Baker’s Realty Co. LLC has been trying to launch this Dunkin’s franchise for more than a decade, first approaching the town’s zoning board in 2008. Salema also operates other Dunkin’ Donuts shops in the region.
Since the project’s initial proposal, Stanley S. Plifka Jr. of Kulick’s Inc. has vocally opposed it. He owns Kulick’s Market and gas station at 30 Warwick Road, less than half a mile from the proposed Dunkin’ Donuts site. Plifka’s complaints over the years have included that the development could lead to over-saturation of fuel stations in the area and increase traffic.
After the Winchester Planning Board approved a slightly modified plan for the project at its January meeting, Kulick’s appealed the decision Feb. 5 in Cheshire County Superior Court.
Judge David W. Ruoff is scheduled to hear arguments in the case Tuesday at 9 a.m.
In its appeal, Kulick’s writes that its main concern is that the development would pose a safety risk to drivers. Specifically, while the prior plan mandated no left-turning vehicles onto Main Street from the development, the revised project proposal includes no such requirement.
The revised plan also includes merging with an adjacent property, constructing the proposed building farther back from the road and upping its square-footage from 3,500 to 3,712, according to the appeal.
The planning board unanimously approved the modified plan at its January meeting.
Frank Linnenbringer with the N.H. Department of Transportation told The Sentinel Monday morning that the state agency decided to lift the right-turn only requirement when the new plan’s entrance along Hinsdale Road was moved further back.
Because of the greater amount of space drivers would have to turn left after the intersection, Linnenbringer said, left turns could be made more safely and block less traffic.
Kulick’s asserts in its appeal, however, that the board ignored the “undisputed traffic impact” of the project, illustrated by studies presented at the meeting. Arguing the approval was illegal, Kulick’s writes that the board “removed the existing condition barring left turns, and made no provision to accommodate the uncontested traffic impact of the development.”
During the January meeting, Nicolas Bosonetto of Richmond, a traffic engineer, questioned the traffic study presented by S.S. Baker’s Realty — a point Plifka has also argued in the past.
But James Phippard of Brickstone Land Use Consultants LLC in Keene, who conducted the study for the realty company, defended his work at the meeting and reminded the crowd he holds a master’s degree in civil engineering.
Planning board members said they had no issue with allowing left turns, according to meeting minutes, with alternate member Dean Beaman noting he’s never had an issue with visibility on Warwick Road.
Years of litigation
The efforts to build and block the Dunkin’ in Winchester have involved many of the same players over the past decade. Phippard has worked with S.S. Baker’s from the beginning, and attorney Kelly E. Dowd has consistently represented Kulick’s.
The Winchester Planning Board — which had a far different makeup from today — first rejected a site plan application for the new Dunkin’ Donuts in 2012, a decision that S.S. Baker’s appealed in court.
Some board members cited traffic and design concerns, claiming that the plan overwhelmed the site. Then-member Kim N. Gordon said S.S. Baker’s was “trying to put three businesses into a postage stamp lot.”
After a motion to approve the plan failed 4-3, the move to deny it passed 4-2, with one abstention.
When a Cheshire County Superior Court judge sided with the planning board in 2013 (the N.H. Supreme Court followed suit in 2014), the realty company filed a slightly different plan a few months later. The length of the building along Warwick Road was shortened by 4 feet, and no left turns would be allowed onto Route 10.
The planning board approved this plan in July 2013, with a few conditions, but Kulick’s continued to fight the development and appealed the board’s decision. Years of litigation culminated in a 2016 Supreme Court decision in favor of S.S. Baker’s, affirming the planning board’s approval.
At that point, the realty company could’ve moved forward with the project, but the effort to merge with the abutting property required going back to the board with a modified site plan.