DRACUT -- Selectmen voted unanimously, 5-0, to approve a request by the owners of Owen & Ollie's Restaurant for a 59-seat expansion, despite opposition from neighbors who claim it will worsen traffic conditions that already endanger their children.

In his first regular Board of Selectmen's meeting as the new town manager, James Duggan witnessed something irregular: Back-to-back public hearings on separate requests by owners of a restaurant and auto-repair shop to expand or open their businesses which both drew multiple objections from their neighbors.

The selectmen's vote to permit Owen & Ollies to expand followed a site visit by the five board members to the 91 Mill St. business earlier Tuesday evening. The five board members were joined by Deputy Police Chief David Chartrand, Fire Chief Dave Brouillette, Town and Manager Jim Duggan and a dozen neighbors.

Addressing the town officials in the front parking lot of Owen & Ollie's on behalf of the residential group, neighbor Jonathan Barry voiced his concern that the proposed 1,397-square-foot banquet-hall addition will add to an existing problem of too many cars threatening the safety of children playing in the adjoining residential side streets -- especially on Saturdays and Sundays, when the neighborhood is most active, he said.

"Owen & Ollie's is a fantastic business, great food, great atmosphere, but this has got nothing to do with that," said Barry, who was accompanied by his 7-year-old daughter at the site visit.


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"This is about the added people that are going to be coming in. Protecting and serving the kids in the community, that should be our priority here. Not our wallets."

Also present for the site visit, Owen & Ollie's owners, Harry and Marykay Gorman, said they understood the neighbors' concerns. The couple and their attorney, Joseph Clermont, assured neighbors and the board in the public hearing at Harmony Hall that followed, that they will install more signs directing patrons coming off Lakeview Avenue onto Mill Street to drive to the rear of their business to an expansive parking lot that too few customers use.

By directing more customers to the rear lot and walkway, Owen & Ollies can alleviate much of the traffic congestion that concerns neighbors, Selectmen Joe DiRocco and Tony Archinski said.

"Speeding is something we see in all neighborhoods throughout the town," Archinski said. "These are businesspeople who run a very good business, and the building is zoned for what they're doing with it."

Selectman Tami Dristiliaris also said the business expansion the Gormans requested was nothing out of the ordinary. Selectman Alison Hughes said Owen & Ollie's request served an important purpose: "to shed light on the problems in that neighborhood, but problems that are not all directly attributable to Owen & Ollie's," she said, before urging the board to approve the permit.

Chairwoman Cathy Richardson said the board will consult with Chartrand about what steps may be taken to reduce the speed limit on Mill Street from 30 miles per hour to 15, as requested by the local residents.

The other businessman who drew opposition to his request from about a dozen neighbors was Michael Ide, who is seeking to augment his current auto-sales business at 10 Hemlock St. with a car-repair building to be located at 310 Merrimack Ave.

Similar to their handling of the Owen & Ollies expansion, in respecting the neighbors' objections, selectmen scheduled a site visit to the 310 Merrimack Ave. business for Tuesday, June 3, at 6 p.m. The public is invited to attend, Richardson said.

Several neighbors of the Merrimack Avenue address expressed their opposition to Ide's proposal based on their anticipated accompanying increases in noise, and/or paint fumes, lighting glare, oil runoff, parked cars, and possible criminal activity.

Ide, who agreed to a list of 22 stipulations set forth by the town that address many concerns voiced by neighbors at the hearing, assured the board the noise would be minimal, and all car-repair activity will be contained inside the building, between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday.

Town Attorney Jim Hall advised selectmen that Ide's requested use "is consistent with a B-3 zone, and is not more of a negative impact than the business that was there before," he said. 

Duggan said his first week on the job in Dracut was highly productive, including holding face-to-face meetings with the police and fire chiefs, and Superintendent of Schools Steven Stone, among other department heads. Duggan also met with several selectmen individually, he said. He described his attendance at the town's annual Memorial Day parade, as a "fantastic experience."

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