By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — It’s official.
Dollar Tree has signed a lease to take over the old CVS building and the adjacent former Santoro’s location at 376-378 Main St. in the heart of downtown Wakefield. Dollar Tree could be open for business as soon as next March, filling a longstanding, major vacancy in the Main Street retail district.
The owner of the property, Robert Santonelli, was at the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting last night along with his attorney Brian McGrail seeking three forms of zoning relief, two of which were granted last night.
The board voted 5-0 to issue a finding to allow the change, alteration or extension of a non-conforming building and found that the proposed changes will not be substantially more detrimental to the neighborhood than the existing non-conformity.
The ZBA also unanimously granted a Special Permit for the reduction of the requirements for off-street parking based on a number of possible uses of the building, including retail, service establishment, offices, bakery, restaurant and/or storage.
McGrail said that Dollar Tree was eager to know that the relief related to parking was granted so they could move ahead with their plans. McGrail had engineer Paul Finocchio review for the board plans to reconfigure and maximize parking in the rear of the building.
The only remaining relief sought is a Special Permit for relief from the signage standards so that a larger sign than what is allowed under the Sign Bylaw can be placed on the building. McGrail and Santonelli will meet with the Sign Review Board before returning to the ZBA in January for a Special Permit for signage.
McGrail maintained that Dollar Tree would shore up the downtown’s retail base and bring “a lot of foot traffic” to the Square. The hair salon on the corner of Main and Centre streets will remain and continue in operation.
McGrail reminded the ZBA that the building had been on the market for some time before Santonelli purchased it in December of 2013. It had been vacant for at least a year before that. McGrail noted that Santonelli also owns other properties in town, including the building occupied by Caffé Italia and the Horizon House building, both on Water Street.
The pending re-occupancy of the old CVS building will result in more than $700,000 in improvements to the interior, McGrail said, including new walls, fixtures, ceilings and lighting.
McGrail and Santonelli reviewed plans for the basement of the building, which they admitted could eventually house any number of uses, from a restaurant to an exercise facility. McGrail said that for now Santonelli was remodeling the basement and considering offering it as storage space for downtown businesses that may need it. The board reviewed the proposed layout of the basement area, including two entrances.
McGrail noted that there is a loading dock in the rear that was used by CVS and will now be used by Dollar Tree.
McGrail said that he and Santonelli had met with Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio, Town Planner Paul Reavis, members of the Economic Development Committee and local representatives of the Main Street Program. He noted that the Wakefield Main Street Program is in the process of seeking grants to improve the downtown and members of that group were pleased with the early concepts for the façade of the building.
ZBA member James McBain, who also chairs the Sign Review Board, said that given the size of the façade on the building, a sign larger than the allowed 15 square feet would be appropriate.
After a question was raised about the operating hours of the Dollar Tree, board member Kim Hackett pointed out that other nearby Dollar Tree stores were open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Santonelli said that the stores typically attract between 500 to 1,000 customers a day.
When the hearing was opened to public input, Matthew Jewett of Byron Street questioned the granting of a blanket waiver of the parking requirements covering a variety of potential uses.
But McGrail suggested that none of the uses proposed for the building were of a type that the ZBA would be likely to deny. He said that his client was being proactive because it was inevitable that changes of use would occur and it would save time on filling vacancies if they did not have to return to the ZBA every time there was a change.
The ZBA was generally pleased with what they heard last night.
Board member Chip Tarbell called it “a wonderful opportunity for that block,” adding that every downtown had a five and dime at one time. “I don’t have any problem with a Dollar Tree,” he said.
McGrail and Santonelli got some feedback from the board as to improvements they would like to see with respect to the façade but the details will be worked through with the Sign Review Board.
“You have the most incredible opportunity to change the feel of the downtown with what you do to the front of that building,” Tarbell said.
The hearing was continued to Jan. 14.