A packed meeting room was filled with residents Tuesday night, offering opinions for and against a coffee shop coming to Concord Center.
The Feb. 13 meeting hosted by the Planning Board included a presentation from a team representing Caffe Nero, which wants to open on the ground floor of a vacant building at the corner of Main and Walden streets.
The board decided to hold off until its March 13 meeting on whether or not to issue a recommendation to the Zoning Board of Appeals for the permits Caffe Nero needs to open in Concord.
The ZBA has the final call on the permits, and it’s scheduled to take up the matter at its March 15 meeting.
Support and opposition
Some residents told the board Caffe Nero is needed, because it would finally occupy a long-vacant store in downtown Concord, and would attract customers to get the cash registers ringing at nearby stores. Other residents said the coffee shop, which has more than 800 locations in Europe and is growing fast in eastern Massachusetts, would detract from the downtown’s historic character.
The discussion focused primarily on parking.
In prior meetings with the Planning Board, Caffe Nero said its Concord location would include 70 seats and six employees during a typical shift.
At the Feb. 13 meeting, Caffe Nero cut those numbers down to 60 and three, respectively, to lessen the parking relief it needs from the town.
Scott Thornton of Vanasse and Associates, a parking consultant for Caffe Nero, told the board there is enough on-street and lot parking within a 2 1/2-minute walk of Caffe Nero for customers, and enough within a five-minute walk for employees.
Some residents questioned the validity of Vanasse's parking studies.
Caffe Nero is asking for relief from local parking requirements. Thornton told the board there is a need for 55 parking spaces to accommodate Caffe Nero and other retail tenants and office space in the building. Town Planner Elizabeth Hughes said the parking requirement for the building is 47 spaces, but because the space Caffe Nero would occupy represents a change of use from prior businesses that have occupied the space, the requirement is now 55 spaces.
Mark Bobrowski, Caffe Nero’s lawyer, called the eight-space gap a delta, and some board members expressed concern about giving Caffe Nero relief in an area of town where parking is already tight.
Another parking concern expressed by the board was what happens if deliveries are made during rush hour, which could increase gridlock in Concord Center. Jay Gentile, director of Caffe Nero USA, said the coffee shop would conform to whatever the town wants in terms of setting hours for deliveries.
Trash removal was another topic of discussion. Gentile told the board trash would be deposited in a courtyard located in the center of the building, and would be carted away nightly.
Some board members and residents questioned whether three employees could handle a 60-seat restaurant, especially during peak customer periods. Bobrowski told the board he would provide data showing other Nero locations that operate with 60 seats and three employees.
Peter Lovis, owner of the Concord Cheese Shop, told the board Caffe Nero would drive up rents. Lovis said Linear Retail Properties, which owns the building at the corner of Main and Walden Streets, is able to get $60 per square foot from a tenant, which would price smaller tenants, like his shop, out of the market.
“When other businesses hear ($60 per square foot), it’s going to put the squeeze on smaller tenants, and then (the Concord Cheese Shop) is out of here,” Lovis said.
Joel Kadis, principal at Linear, told the board his company turned down a bank that offered $60 per square foot to move into the building. Kadis said the lease with Caffe Nero is less than $60 per square foot.
“We’re trying to create a benefit for the town, and not just put a bank on the corner,” Kadis said.
Follow Henry Schwan on Twitter @henrycojo.