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Developer gets site plan waiver for Washington Street Sunoco store

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A Rochester developer received permission on Tuesday from the city Planning Board to expand the Sunoco convenience store on Washington Street, despite contentious debate about whether it should sell more beer products in larger coolers and large glass containers.

After hearing about the project over the weekend, a group of neighbors from nearby streets sent a letter to the city voicing concerns that the expansion would include a “beer cave,” a walk-in cooler offering six- and 12-packs of various beers. Large glass containers of beer, known as growlers, also would be sold.

“We do not need a larger facility to sell beer in our neighborhood,” the neighbors wrote. “Washington Street is known for health, wellness, education and family; it should not become known as ‘the place to go’ for growlers, beer caves and tobacco.”

The neighbors opposed the expansion by Sunoco Inc. Rochester, when it was first proposed nearly two years ago as a larger project that required a zoning change.

On Tuesday, Planning Board member William R. Davis Jr. contended that planners should abide by neighbors’ wishes and not allow a waiver of a site plan review, which, in the end, was unanimously approved.

He expressed the same concern about selling so many beer and tobacco products across from Case Middle, Watertown High and Wiley Elementary schools and near Sherman Elementary School, noting that four other nearby businesses also sell them.

Neil Katzman, another Planning Board member, also said he was worried that traffic would increase with the sale of diesel fuel there.

After arguing that point for about 15 minutes, they were told the board could only consider the merits of the site plans, not what products are sold.

“The use of alcohol is permitted,” said Planning Board Chairwoman Sara S. Freda. “What is sold is permitted. We can’t address that.”

Sunoco wants to expand the store by 508 square feet, with small additions on the north and south sides of the building. The original plans called for demolishing the 1,568-square-foot existing building at 1222 Washington St. to construct a larger one behind it.

In December 2011, the Planning Board unanimously denied Sunoco’s request for a zoning change from Residence A to Neighborhood Business after neighbors expressed concerns that the new shop would devalue their property and be too detrimental to the neighborhood.

The zoning change is not needed for the revised project.

To get the waiver from completing a site plan, the developers promised on Tuesday to enclose the dumpster with a wooden fence and install a fence around the cooler’s outdoor compressors, maintain the existing landscaping near the sidewalk and plant four evergreen trees near the trash receptacle.

The Watertown City Council still must give final approval for the waiver; it could come at the meeting Monday.

Sunoco officials hope construction will start in the spring and take about 60 days to complete. A coffee station, frozen drink machine, sandwich case and other new amenities will be a part of the new store.

Christopher Quirk will continue to operate the store, said Sunoco marketing engineer Thomas C. Boje.

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