Sturbridge Planning Board approves Panera Bread signs

STURBRIDGE – The Planning Board approved a special permit Tuesday for the requested signage for a proposed Panera Bread.

Jayesh Patel, owner of the new Holiday Inn Express at 21 New Boston Road, proposes a 6,600-square foot, two-tenant building featuring a 4,200-square-foot, 90-seat Panera Bread with a drive-thru and a yet-to-be-named 2,200-square-foot, 45-seat restaurant on the same parcel on which the hotel stands.

Speaking on behalf of Mr. Patel, Patrick P. Doherty, a civil engineer with Midpoint Engineering and Consulting in Auburn, submitted an application and plans for a special permit for a 96-square-foot multi-tenant sign for the property and three building signs identifying Panera Bread and two drive-thru boards.

Mr. Patel proposes to install three Panera Bread signs facing the parking lot, Route 20 and New Boston Road. The applicant seeks a special permit in accordance with the town bylaws to install a freestanding sign with area larger than the permitted maximum area and to install more signs than permitted under the bylaw.

The special permit was approved in a 6-1 vote, but not without a little grumbling from several board members. James Cunniff, the sole planning board member who voted against granting the special permit, said he opposes the preview board in the drive-thru.

After the vote, Terry Shaughnessy, district manager for Panera Bread, said the hope is that the restaurant will be up and running in Sturbridge by summer, no later than fall.

With the hotel parcel in the town’s Village Gateway District, Planning Board member Russell Chamberland said, the developers could have done a better job with the multi-tenant sign’s design.

“It just looks like a box,” Mr. Chamberland said. “I have a problem with that.”

Planning Board member Penny Dumas also said the multi-tenant sign is “very contemporary” and “doesn’t really go with the architecture.”

Mr. Patel said the reason why they went for the “standard, prototype sign” is because it is acceptable everywhere.

Ms. Dumas also expressed concern that a digital menu board in the drive-thru that is 175 feet off the road might too bright for motorists.

“You may love the blue lights. I don’t like the blue lights,” Ms. Dumas said. “It’s a Village Gateway District and I’m hoping that’s (the digital menu sign is) not going to be a bright spot as you come off the Mass. Pike into Sturbridge, if you’re going to head on Route 20 East.”

The “blue lights” remarks were in reference to the Holiday Inn Express. Despite Town Planner Jean M. Bubon and Building Commissioner and Zoning Enforcement Officer Nelson Burlingame determining the lights are not in violation of town zoning bylaws, Ms. Dumas took issue with the exterior blue LED lights at the new hotel.

Regarding the outside menu board, Mr. Doherty said, “It’s only meant for the people who are five feet away to read it.”

After a motion was made and seconded to approve the special permit, Ms. Dumas asked Mr. Patel to reconsider the multi-tenant sign, saying it would be the first thing people see coming into Sturbridge.

Mr. Patel said no.

“Right now, to be honest with you, I don’t have much energy left on this project,” Mr. Patel said. “I don’t want to look like a foolish man going in front of the (Panera) corporation, asking for every single time I have to change something … It’s simple as that.”


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