Busy Route 6 paves way to change in small town

Dunkin’ Donuts, which opened recently on Route 6, took 10 years to approve. Dunkin’ Donuts, which opened recently on Route 6, took 10 years to approve. (Paul E. Kandarian for The Boston Globe)
By Paul E. Kandarian
Globe Correspondent / February 3, 2011

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Up until a couple of years ago, Route 6 hadn’t changed much in decades, Jim Graziosi said while sitting in Marion’s new Dunkin’ Donuts on a recent snowy morning.

“If you put a picture of Route 6 in 1960 next to one a few years ago, I don’t think it would look much different,” said Graziosi, an electronics salesman who travels frequently in the area.

That was then, this is now. Route 6, a heavily traveled state road connecting the town with Mattapoisett to the west and Wareham to the east, has seen some significant additions that have already begun changing the character of rural Marion.

The three biggest recent openings in Marion are the Dunkin’ Donuts shop; the new police station; and Little Neck Village, a greatly expanded senior housing development. All are within a mile of one another.

There may be more to come. Cumberland Farms, which owns two convenience store/gasoline stations at the corner of Route 6 and Front Street, wants to raze one of them and replace it with a store twice as large. That project is tied up in litigation after the Planning Board rejected the proposal.

And just off Route 6 on Front Street, Baywatch Realty Trust has proposed a 168-unit affordable-housing development, which the town has battled for nine years. The project is now before the state housing appeals court, said Town Administrator Paul Dawson.

These are big changes for a town that is home to about 5,000 year-round residents and second home to many more in summer, when the seaside community bustles with sailing on Sippican Harbor. Old homes abound in town, particularly in Marion Village near Tabor Academy, and keeping that character while drawing tax-paying businesses is a delicate proposition, said Tom Magauran, vice chairman of the Planning Board.

“We’re not looking to get sprawl, to line Route 6 with businesses from here to Wareham and Mattapoisett,” he said. “We’re really acting completely contrary to that. We want to focus on density beneficial to the community in that area.”

Getting Dunkin’ Donuts approved required a nearly 10-year battle, as developers worked with the town to come up with a building that fit with its surroundings. The discussions included the color of the paint, and enlarging the store footprint to accommodate a drive-through that wouldn’t have cars lined up out to Route 6, Magauran said.

The building, which opened last year, replaced a French restaurant that had been boarded up for at least a decade. Nearby, at the corner of Spring Street and Route 6, is an old hardware store, boarded up for the past five years. Some proposals for that property have been aired, but nothing has stuck, Magauran said.

Consultants have told Marion officials the best way to handle new business on Route 6 is to construct two-story buildings with multiple uses, such as homes or offices above businesses, he said.

“But the kinds of businesses that can be profitable tend to be more on the chain-store side, and they typically don’t want second stories, which is critical to us,” Magauran said. “We’re proposing a bylaw at spring Town Meeting that calls for all general structures on Route 6 to be two stories, to be consistent with the area.”

The bylaw would provide tax incentives under a proposed Neighborhood Overlay District, he said, and would take a two-thirds majority to pass.

“Any time you make changes, folks get skittish,” he said.

The alternative, he said, is “to have simple, 15,000-square-foot lots, and you’re going to have chains going in with no interest in making it consistent with the area. You end up with a lot of blacktop and single-story structures.”

Change comes slowly in a town like Marion. The new police station, for example, took six years of attempts to get it built, and multiple Town Meetings. The $3.75-million facility opened last July.

Little Neck Village, a development for seniors, had 12 units since the 1970s, and was built, owned, and run by the town. When it’s completed in March, the expanded village will have 48 apartments, with rents starting at $898 a month. It will boost the town’s affordable-housing stock to 90, or 4.3 percent of the total, Dawson said, still short of the state target of 10 percent.

The project has gone smoothly and quickly, said Dana Angelo, project director for EA Fish Cos. of Braintree, which owns and runs the development through its Peabody Properties. The town owns the land and leases it to Fish for $1 for a 99-year period.

“We started construction in spring 2010, and it’s going well, coming in below budget,” he said of a project slated to cost $8.9 million.

The town had owned Little Neck Village until turning over ownership to Fish. Company officials said it had cost Marion taxpayers more than $30,000 a year to run the development, and when it’s complete, Peabody Properties will pay the town $20,000 a year in property taxes and $12,000 in sewer and water fees.

One problem of Route 6 is its layout; a quarter-mile stretch near Front Street is a series of winding curves and has been the site of many traffic accidents over the years.

“Route 6 was never built to be a four-lane highway,” Magauran said. “It evolved into one.”

Straightening out that portion would help, but any changes in design, he said, “won’t happen for many, many years.”

Paul Kandarian can be reached at