By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — The Zoning Board of Appeals was less than completely satisfied with a traffic study that was presented in November on the impact of Cabot Cabot & Forbes’ proposed 440-unit, mixed-use development at the head of the Lake.
Since the board had received the results of CC&F’s traffic study just prior to that November meeting, they asked a representative of the town’s Traffic Advisory Committee to attend their December 15 meeting to answer any lingering questions. CC&F’s traffic consultant Scott Thornton, who prepared the original traffic study, was also at the December meeting.
Thornton, a principal at engineering firm Vanasse and Associates, told the board in November that while the CC&F project as currently proposed would produce 228 more daily vehicle trips in and out of the site than the previously approved research and development use, it would result in 92 fewer morning peak hour trips and 31 fewer evening peak hour trips.
Peak hour trips, Thornton explained, are most significant and have the greatest impact on traffic.
The numbers also compare favorably with the most recent use of the site as a data center, Thornton said at the November meeting. Traffic operations at nearby intersections are projected to be similar or better than they were when the data center was in operation, he added.
But ZBA members questioned why the projected traffic numbers from CC&F’s project were being compared with estimated traffic counts from a Research and Development operation that was approved by the ZBA for the site in 2019 but never materialized.
Board member Greg McIntosh and others said that they were unclear as to why estimated traffic numbers for a non-existent R&D site were being used as a baseline instead of the current unused condition of the site. He felt that comparing traffic projections for CC&F’s plans to what is there now would yield a much more accurate picture of the traffic impact.
“It seems odd that we’re not going to look at what’s there now,” he said.
Town Engineer Bill Renault, who serves on the Traffic Advisory Committee (TAC), said that since the site has been legally permitted for use as an R&D site, that would be the appropriate comparison to use. Renault said that he has never seen a traffic study based on an unused site.
But ZBA member Ami Wall agreed with McIntosh that it would have been nice to see traffic comparisons based on what’s there now, rather than based on a hypothetical use that never materialized.
Attorney Brian McGrail, who represents CC&F, said a traffic study would never be done on a vacant site. He said that the standard is always what would be allowed on the site based on zoning and permitting. That standard is then used as a basis of comparison.
Renault said that he agreed with the conclusions of the CC&F study that the traffic impact of the project would be minimal compared to the approved use as a research and development site.
ZBA member Jim McBain said that he was particularly concerned with traffic at the Lowell Street end of Quannapowitt Parkway, especially for vehicles trying to enter traffic from Quannapowitt Parkway during rush hours.
Renault said that the TAC did look at that intersection and the possibility of making it “Right Turn Only” onto Lowell Street for vehicles coming out of Quannapowitt Parkway. That would effectively force those seeking to get on the highway from Quannapowitt Parkway to use the signalized North Avenue end. Renault said that a traffic study showed that there would be no resulting impact on the operation of the North Avenue traffic signal.
There were questions from the board about the project’s impact on the traffic signal at North Avenue and Church Street.
Renault said that a traffic study typically would not look at an intersection as distant from the project as North Avenue and Church Street. Besides, he expected that most of the traffic exiting the project at peak hours would be heading for the highway. Since they saw no impact on the Quannapowitt Parkway/North Avenue signal, Renault said, there was no reason to think the North Avenue/Church Street signal would be impacted.
Renault added the town was asking CC&F on Quannapowitt Parkway for enhancements for walking and biking, which should also cut down on traffic.
Renault said that a town-wide traffic study is currently underway which should provide insight into the cumulative traffic impact of the various developments in town.