Freelance Writer
Bad for Business on Blake?
09.02.13 | No Comments
Category: News

The Downtown Improvement Project, an upgrade to the center/Main Street area of Northborough in collaboration with the state, began last year and its intent was to create more navigational ease for downtown drivers.

While for many, the new lanes and lights do provide that, some aren’t as thrilled with the project: namely those with businesses along Blake Street.

Tucked behind buildings on a narrow, short inlet that curves behind the former town hall (now Zem Han) and CVS, these businesses have struggled with visibility to passerby. Now, they say a combination of enforced sign laws and the inability to take a left onto Blake Street from West Main Street/Route 20, is hindering it even more.

“The downtown improvement project has really negatively impacted our business,” said Hakan Zirh, owner of Zem Han. “The road construction was creating huge traffic on Main Street and people were taking different roads to avoid the traffic and they wouldn’t come to our restaurant because of traffic. When the road on Main Street was completed, they put the sign that does not allow to make a left turn from Main Street to our parking lot on Blake Street and another sign that does not allow to go to Main Street from our parking lot. This created such a big inconvenience for our customers. This affected our business tremendously.”

Zirh argues that in comparing the numbers of diners in his restaurant to before the road construction to figures during and after construction, business was reduced “by four times.”

Business owners met with Town Administrator John Coderre, Town Planner Kathy Joubert, Building Inspector Fred Lombardo and Town Engineer Fred Litchfield on May 8, when Susan LaDue, owner of the Doggie Den, said “the town staff were generous with their time and comments but would not budge on the changes that we requested: a left turn onto Blake from route 20 east; and making Blake two-way. It seemed as though town staff felt that the downtown beautification was nearing its end and they were loathe to re-open anything or add anything new.”

“Follow-up work has been done by the town engineer regarding the Blake Street/West Main Street intersection, turning movements, and additional signage for the area,” said Joubert, who added that Litchfield was working on a memo to Coderre and business owners.

Joubert, addressing the long-running issue with the overuse of temporary signs in town, added, “There appear to be fewer of them, especially in the center of town area. It seems to go in waves throughout the year. Sometimes, there appear to be many that have been erected without a sign permit and then at times, they are down or gone. We receive far fewer complaints from residents then.”

According to LaDue, Zirh, at the May 8 meeting, also explained how the Blake Street flow was harming his business, and “the implication seemed to be that ‘if you want visibility on Main St. you should rent premises on Main Street.'”

“I repeatedly asked what the process was to request a change in traffic flow on a town street and no one had an answer for me,” said LaDue. “Coderre promised to get back to me on whom we can contact to change the flow on Blake Street.”

Blake Street businesses were told that they shouldn’t expect any obstruction or slowdown in traffic due to the improvements that have been ongoing, said LaDue. They were “dismayed,” she said, that “there have been several choke points set up so far this summer, making it difficult for cars to get through town.”

Tony Kwan, who owns the building that houses Zem Han, paid for a permanent sign that displays not only Zem Han, but the other businesses along Blake Street. Also, LaDue said that Joubert has “promised signs at the corners of Church and Main and Hudson and Main” that indicate where drivers should turn for Blake Street businesses.

“It’s not any different than it was before,” said Paul Delles, owner of Mama’s Pizza on Blake Street. “The town moved on a $4 million dollar project and they didn’t see what they could have done to help businesses out on Blake Street.”

Delles argues that while the no left turn is enforced for drivers wishing to turn onto Blake Street, it is not the case for the nearby CVS or Gulf Station.

“Where are the priorities, where are the rules?” said Delles. “It’s a joke. It’s a maze to get to Mama’s.”

A meeting to discuss temporary sign bylaws is scheduled with the Planning Board for Sept. 3. “Over the years, this particular section of the sign bylaw has presented challenges to business owners, residents and town boards,” says the announcement. “We would like to hear your thoughts and suggestions pertaining to the bylaw as we begin to consider changes to the zoning bylaw for the 2014 Annual Town Meeting to be held in April.”

This story originally ran on Northborough Patch, July, 2013

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