Plan to rezone for drive-through at Four Corners stirs opposition

Day file photo A petition to rezone an area at Sal

Salem - Controversy has erupted over the potential rezoning of two areas around Salem Four Corners that would allow the development of several new businesses.While there has been little protest over a zone change that would allow for a medical center to be built on Center Street behind the town's restaurants and shops, there has been much debate and even a petition over a rezoning at 24 Hartford Road.The Hartford Road (Route 85) site would be developed into a building with businesses - including a drive- through restaurant rumored to be a Dunkin' Donuts - on the first floor and apartments on the second floor.The Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Town Hall to discuss the proposal.Bob Ross, the town's first selectman, endorses the rezoning. He argues that new business will help lower taxes in Salem and make it more convenient for residents."The average town receives 15 percent of its tax revenues from businesses," said Ross. "Right now we receive 7 percent. That means that we have to more than double our commercial property just to be average."However Dominic Mecca, owner of the nearby Coffee Connection and previous owner of the Salem Town Plaza, believes this new development will only increase the danger of the already busy intersection.Thirty-thousand cars go through the intersection daily, according to Mecca. The majority of morning commuters, he said, come up Route 85 to the Four Corners, take a left onto Route 82, and then get on Route 11. In the afternoons, the heavy traffic, he said, travels the same path in the other direction.Commuters who patronize a drive-through restaurant on the northwest corner would likely have to go through the intersection twice, said Mecca, increasing traffic and accidents.Ross has acknowledged the danger atthe intersection but plans to fix that problem by replacing the stoplight with a roundabout. However, that project would not begin for at least another year.Ross also feels that Mecca's motives may be less utilitarian. The project would likely mean a Dunkin' Donuts in Salem, which would be direct competition for Mecca's Coffee Connection."Look at my history," said Mecca in response. "I have been arguing for that intersection to be widened for years. If I didn't have a history of trying to make that intersection safer, he might have a point. But I do."Mecca has complained of the danger at the intersection before, lobbying for another lane to be built at Route 82 and Route 85 since 1996. He admits that a Dunkin' Donuts would be a competitor but states he would be against any fast food franchise in that spot.

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