In 1971 the owner of a 6-acre vacant lot on the Post Road, between South Morningside and Church Street, proposed a new shopping center.
It would include a supermarket, drugstore, retail shops and 366-seat movie theater. Plans included a driveway on the southern part of the property — directly on South Morningside. Directly opposite Green’s Farms Elementary School.
The Green’s Farms PTA swung into action. They quickly got 700 signatures — from all over town — on a petition that claimed the driveway would be hazardous to children. (The PTA was not against the shopping center itself.)
Their protests led to a new traffic plan. For 4 decades, traffic from (then) Waldbaum’s and the Post Cinema, and (now) Barnes & Noble and Pompanoosuc Mills, has exited only onto the Post Road and Church Street.
But everything old is new again. This Tuesday (July 23, 7:30 p.m., Town Hall) the Zoning Board of Appeals will consider a zoning variance. It’s a request — you knew this was coming — for a new commercial driveway to be built in the rear of the Post Plaza Shopping Center, onto South Morningside. Directly across from the Green’s Farms School bus exit.
Owners estimate that 20% of shopping center traffic — cars, commercial vehicles, and delivery and garbage trucks — would use the new driveway.
RTM members John Suggs, Dewey Loselle and Matt Mandell are not pleased. They’re concerned about safety — particularly at school pickup and drop-off times, when vehicles parked on both sides of Morningside make sight lines difficult.
Morningside is also clogged for events like plays, Back to School Nights and softball games.
Opponents point out too that Westport prohibits the construction of a driveway within 400 feet of a school driveway. That ordinance was waived in January by the Board of Selectmen. No RTM member or Green’s Farms Association member attended the meeting. The selectmen have been asked to rehear the matter for several reasons, one of which was that the public notice was “deficient.”
The State Traffic Administration — which in 1971 forbid construction of the driveway, thanks in part to the PTA petition — has been asked whether it is legal for the town to now permit the driveway, without seeking state approval.
Back in 1971, Green’s Farms PTA president Penny Heatley said, “We want to be certain that there will be no access to South Morningside Drive across from the school, even if the present owners were to sell out to somebody else in a year or two.”
Or even if the current owners, 40 years later, decided to try the same thing.