Medical Office Building Gains Special Permit

December 21, 2023
• The medical office building proposed for 629-661 Highland Avenue moved one step closer to reality, after the Planning Board approved a special permit for the project during its Tuesday meeting.

Attorney Evans Huber, representing Petitioner Neehigh LLC, walked members through several key points in the drafted permit to request modifications where needed.

After residents requested beautification efforts at the site, a condition in the special permit stated additional landscaping to be installed, which would “limit the impact and views” on site. However, Huber argued the requirement is “very vague,” as it doesn’t specify what particular landscaping is desired. Shrubbery or other plantings would likely get “trashed by [snow] plows,” he said.

Chair Adam Block said there isn’t a landscaping plan, agreeing the condition is vague. The board agreed to remove that short paragraph in the permit.

Neighbors had also expressed concerns about vehicle traffic during the public hearing phase of the project. To mitigate that, the developer agreed to install signage that specifies Putnam Street is a dead-end, private way without access to Highland Avenue. They will also institute a peninsula to dissuade drivers from turning left onto Putnam Street.

Taking the building’s function into consideration, Huber said its hours of operation would also need to be adjusted. The drafted permit listed its hours as 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, but that’s potential limiting in emergency scenarios.

Huber suggested the time period be expanded and a special provision be added to account for those types of emergencies.

Planning Board member Paul Alpert explained the issue in a hypothetical.

“So are we saying that if a patient calls a doctor on a Saturday or Sunday and says, ‘Doctor, I’m having a problem. Can you see me?’ The doctor says, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t see you in my office or I’d be violating this site plan special permit, go to the emergency room.’”

Hours for patient services were stretched to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The hours for construction were also cut short — instead of Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., Huber said they would voluntarily not work past 5 p.m., unless with the building commissioner’s prior approval.

Board members also removed language that would require a 24/7 “contact person” that could respond to complaints of people trespassing on Putnam Street. Huber argued the language was “patently unreasonable” and that it was “highly problematic” to restrict such traffic, given, in part, that the petitioner has by-right use.

Based on similar concerns about enforcement and legal right, the board struck an additional condition about minimizing cut-through traffic.

After additional wording changes and typo adjustments, the board unanimously granted the major project site plan review special permit under the outlined modifications.

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