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Contrasting receptions for Dave & Buster's in Braintree and Burlington

Posted by dinouye  September 1, 2011 12:17 AM

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Is Dave & Buster’s simply too big, too brash, and too Texas for Route 128?

Two towns along the 128/Interstate 95 corridor have answered this question in dramatically different ways for the Dallas-based chain of sprawling entertainment palaces, which feature dozens of video games, bar service for players, and a large restaurant.

At Route 128’s southern tip, Braintree has decided to roll the dice on a Dave & Buster’s proposal to retrofit the former Circuit City building just off the highway near the South Shore Plaza.

By contrast, Burlington has spurned plans for a two-story, 35,000-square-foot-plus Dave & Buster’s where a car dealership once sprawled not far from Route 128 on the Middlesex Turnpike.

The rejection has triggered legal action by the owner of the 12-acre lot.

In a Middlesex Superior Court lawsuit, property owner Paul Calvo wants to both overturn the town Planning Board’s decision and win damages from individual board members.

“For reasons never clear to the applicant, Dave & Buster’s is considered a noxious use by the Planning Board akin to adult entertainment which should be zoned … to a remote part of town, or possibly not allowed at all in any part of Burlington,’’ Calvo’s lawsuit states. His lawyer, Frederick Gilgun Jr., could not be reached for comment on the lawsuit.

For Braintree officials, getting their arms around the Dave & Buster’s concept wasn’t an easy process either.

It took months - and a visit to the nearest Dave & Buster’s outpost, in Providence - before they were comfortable approving the chain’s plan.

Local officials simply didn’t have a clue what Dave & Buster’s was, and had nothing to compare it with, noted Melissa Santucci, principal planner for Braintree.

“This is not in Massachusetts,’’ she said. “It was not like, ‘Hey, that’s over in Lexington, I’ve been there,’ ’’ she said of the lack of familiarity with Dave & Buster’s. “There was definitely a learning process and an educational process.’’

The Dave & Buster’s in Braintree, slated to open by year’s end, will be the first in the state.

But unlike some of its other locations across the country, there will be a less casual atmosphere in the Braintree location when it comes to serving alcohol.

In many other locales, waitresses circulate through the expanse of video games, taking drink orders. In some, the bar is right in the game room, Santucci said.

But in Braintree, customers will have to go to a separate bar area to order a beverage.

By contrast, Burlington officials never reached that comfort level with the Dave & Buster’s concept, despite a year of meetings and reviews.

The Planning Board rejected the proposed Dave & Buster’s by a 6-to-1 vote at the end of June, and issued a 39-page decision to explain its verdict.

The decision is ridiculed in Calvo’s suit, which depicts handwringing over how drinks are served at Dave & Buster’s, and the design of the building.

D. Anthony Fields, Burlington’s planning director, said he doesn’t deny that there were some concerns, to put it mildly, among board members about the Dave & Buster’s proposal.

Burlington voted last year to rezone the property to make it attractive for new development, with hopes of attracting a “signature building,’’ given its prominent location near 128, he said.

Fields even owns up to making a wisecrack of his own during the yearlong review process.

“I might have jokingly said it’s like a Chuck E. Cheese for grownups,’’ he recalled.

But the reasons behind the board’s decision were many and complex, with issues like architecture playing a minor role, he said.

While concerns over traffic played a role, it was not necessarily the volume that was a problem. Rather, it stemmed from the flow of cars in and out of the site onto the Middlesex Turnpike, given some turning restrictions.

With a median strip in that portion of the turnpike, the only way into the proposed Dave & Buster’s was through a right-hand turn, and the only way out was through a right-hand turn as well, Fields said.

There was also a feeling, among some board members, that the proposal simply tried to cram too much onto the site, he said.

The battle over the proposed Dave & Buster’s is likely to drag on as both sides fight it out in court.

With a prime 12-acre site near the bustling 128 corridor now sitting vacant, it’s hard to see anyone coming out a winner here.

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