ORLEANS — Questions and controversy surrounding the size, zone location and intended use of an F.W. Webb plumbing supply outlet at the Underground Mall prompted selectmen to ask that a draft referral of the proposed project be crafted in case they decide to seek a Cape Cod Commission review.
F.W. Webb has proposed to buy and demolish the 29,000-square-foot mall (aka Bayberry Square) at 17 Nell Way that used to house the Hunan Gourmet Restaurant, the Lighthouse Charter School, Crossfit and New Farm store.
In its place would be a building that includes 11,166 square feet of warehouse space, 14,519 square feet of retail display, 3,650 square feet of office space and a 9,000-square-foot mezzanine. All told, it would be just over 38,000 square feet.
F.W. Webb, self-described as the “largest wholesaler of its kind in the Northeast,” sells plumbing, heating, refrigeration, pipes, valves and fittings mostly to contractors at 80 New England locations. They also have retail showrooms and sales, including one in Hyannis.
The mall property is 3.6 acres; most of that is now parking spaces and parking is one of the issues F.W. Webb will face as they apply for three special permits. The original plan required 83 parking spaces and F.W. Webb proposed 39, but they’ve since downsized the mezzanine to reduce requirements.
But they’ll still need a permit from the Orleans Zoning Board of Appeals as 59 of the spaces were required by the retail space, and retail space is needed to get into the general business zone, in which the property sits.
Wholesale or warehouse operations must be built in the industrial zone under town zoning bylaws.
The Covid-19 crisis short circuited the applicant’s appearances before the Old Kings Highway Regional Historic District Committee, Orleans Historic District Committee and the ZBA, and the selectmen are now contemplating a referral of the project to the commission. The building’s increase in size over the existing mall, 9,000 square feet, is just under the 10,000 square foot addition that would trigger a mandatory review.
Some local opposition has sparked the selectmens’ renewed attention.
“I submitted two pages of comments to the selectmen (this week). One thing I allude to is the Cape Cod Commission should’ve done a mandatory review to begin with and I believe all the facts are not known by the Cape Cod Commission,” project opponent Lawrence Diaz explained. “My concern is this is an industrial [project] with loading docks, and it does not belong in a general business zone. It belongs in an industrial zone.”
Diaz supplied 16 pages of documentation to the selectmen the previous week. He argued that F.W. Webb is classified as a wholesaler by the federal government, and is listed as such with the Secretary of State.
“I’m pro business but also pro appropriate development,” Diaz said. “That’s the way you maximize value. “The planning department should be working on a economic development plan to attract businesses like F.W. Webb to an appropriate area of town. Attracting a business like F.W. Webb is consistent with enhancing the economy of the town. Both can be achieved as a function of good planning. I think it is very clear this location violates the letter and spirit of our zoning regulations.“
He also argues the building is a change of use.
“This has a three-quarter acre footprint. It’s 30 feet high to accommodate (11,000 square feet of) high rack storage. There are three loading docks,” he noted. “This is a big change relative to that mini mall. “
One person who would know is retired orthodontist John Pautienis, who had a practice on Nell Way and is president of the Dalia Trust, which owns the building where his office was located.
“I remember when we went in front of the historic commission to make sure it stayed within compliance . They were pretty strict,” Pautienis said. “We worked with them and didn’t change the character of the neighborhood.”
As a property-owning abuttor, he feels the Webb outfit will change the neighborhood.
At a ZBA hearing in March Webb’s attorney was asked if the company collects sales tax and the answer was yes. That would imply they are a retail operation.
“But they are registered in Massachusetts as a wholesaler,” Pautienis said. “I would think the CEO would know if they are a wholesaler or retailer. It’s amazing this got beyond site plan review (they approved it March 4).”
Pautienis recalled he dealt with F.W. Webb when he was outfitting his medical office.
“I’ve been to their showroom (in Hyannis) with my contractor an architect,” he said. “Most of the time you go in there and pick out what you want and the contractor goes in there and buys it and you pay them. That’s the definition of wholesale. There’s a lot of misrepresentation of what is going on.”
The Hyannis showroom is in an industrial park. Pautienis believes the Cape Cod Commission should already be involved. He said there are safety concerns with the nearby preschool on Nell Way as well as a Quest clinic, where people go for medical tests, because there will likely be increased truck traffic delivering and picking up supplies from F.W. Webb.
The selectmen took a backseat to all of this in February, although they expressed concern about such a large building at the gateway to the town on Route 6A.
Traffic is not a major issue, Town Planner George Meservey said during a discussion of the project at the board of selectmen’s meeting May 13.
“The bigger trucks would only be in there one or two times a week in the mornings,” Meservey said.
He said the board could ask for a discretionary review from the Cape Cod Commission if they think it has impact on natural resources, traffic, size or an effect on surrounding towns or an economic impact.
Selectman Kevin Galligan suggested the commission should also consider whether the proposed building was a change of use under commission rules. (With a change of use, the more strict local zoning regulations would apply.)
“The building commissioner looked at this and determined the majority of this activity, while it may not be you and me going in and buying plumbing fixtures, most of the sales are being put on a truck and delivered to the final destination,” Meservey said, adding, “So he did not think it fell into the wholesale category. I’d hate to send something to the Cape Cod Commission just for the use.”
“They are wholesalers. That’s how they describe themselves. That’s what they are – wholesalers. They don’t belong in that area,” Selectman Cecil Newcomb countered. “They can move down Giddiah Hill Road.”