NATICK — This past spring, the Planning Board embarked on a quest to answer this question: Should reLeaf Alternative, the adult-use cannabis shop seeking to open on Route 9, have one driveway or two?
Following months of study, discussion and expert opinions, board members settled the debate on Wednesday by approving reLeaf’s site plan — dual driveway and all.
More:ReLeaf Alternative opening plans stalled amid dispute over Natick dispensary’s driveways
The vote clears one of the final hurdles in reLeaf’s site plan review and special permitting process.
What’s the background?
ReLeaf is set to become one of two adult-use marijuana retailers in Natick, with plans to open at 291 Worcester St., a former Papa Gino’s. However, the site’s pre-existing driveway, which has two outlets to Route 9, became the focus of protracted debate.
ReLeaf representatives argued in favor of keeping the driveway as is, asserting that one outlet wouldn’t provide enough distance for drivers to see and react to road signs or hazards.
More:ReLeaf Alternative’s proposed marijuana dispensary sparks traffic concerns
Meanwhile, Planning Board member Doug Landry — a planning professional with experience in transportation projects and strategy — pushed for a single driveway, citing the traffic signal located almost directly in front of the site.
“It’s rare, in my observation, that we have such diametrically opposed opinions about something,” Planning Board Chair Andy Meyer remarked during Wednesday’s meeting.
The board had attempted to seek an opinion from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), but the agency declined to take a stand.
Town and reLeaf representatives convened between Planning Board meetings to discuss the site, with Police Chief James Hicks, Deputy Police Chief Brian Lauzon, fire inspector Tanya Quigley-Boylan and Town Engineer William McDowell among those who weighed in.
“It was very clear that all of the local town departments prefer the existing two-driveway access,” summarized George Richards, an attorney for reLeaf and a former Planning Board member.
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Town zoning bylaws also entitle reLeaf to two driveways, he pointed out, though the retailer also came prepared with a single-driveway design.
“We do need this project to move forward, and we need to make a decision one way or the other,” Richards said.
What board members said
“Have I changed my mind? I have not. I think this is the safer driveway,” Landry said of the single-driveway design. “I think if you presented this to MassDOT, it would get approved. I do not want to come across as disrespecting the fire chief, the safety officer, fire inspector — they’ve been in this town. They’ve got a lot of experience as well.”
However, Landry emphasized the importance of holding criteria from MassDOT and the Federal Highway Administration above hunches.
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In the end, though, gut feelings helped sway the rest of the board.
Board member Peter Nottonson questioned how a single driveway would fare under slippery winter conditions.
“For no legitimate reason other than my feeling as a driver, (I believe) that the two driveways are an advantage,” he said.
Associate member Chris Therrien said she didn’t trust drivers to be courteous enough to stay to one side of the driveway and leave space for traffic coming in the other direction, potentially causing a standstill that would leave cars vulnerable to rear-ending.
Meyer expressed support for a single driveway, noting that while other speakers had expressed their preferences, none had contradicted Landry’s assessment.
“I can obviously see this both ways, and I’m a little torn,” he said.
The Planning Board ultimately shot down the single driveway by a vote of 4-2, and the site plan with the existing driveway passed overwhelmingly. The board will now draft its decision on reLeaf’s special permitting and take it up on Aug. 31.