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Natick neighbors resist auto body shop's attempt to open new branch

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  November 21, 2011 03:09 PM

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As a longtime Natick auto shop owner prepares to ask zoning officials for permission to expand his business, nearby residents are organizing against proposal, citing increased traffic, noise, pollution, and property devaluation as key concerns.

Joseph Gagliardi, who has owned the Coach and Carriage Auto Body Inc. on Middlesex Avenue for 20 years, recently submitted an application to rezone the former Duralectra building on North Avenue to allow him to erect another branch of his auto body shop there.

The Natick Zoning Board of Appeals will hold a hearing Dec. 5 regarding the possible expansion of Coach and Carriage.

Gagliardi said he wants to expand his business, which has stood at its Natick Center location for over 40 years, because his employees need more office space to telecommunicate with insurance agencies for collision services.

In searching for a new property, Gagliardi said the former Duralectra building caught his eye due to its hefty, durable structure.

“It’s a really well-built concrete commercial building designed for heavy industrial use,” Gagliardi said of the building, which lays a half-mile away from the current shop’s location. “My real estate agent just happened to show me it. I never got so much attention just for looking at a building.”

However, homeowners whose properties abut the industrial building have begun petitioning against the move.

Natick resident Dan DiMento has spearheaded the initiative to sway officials to refuse Gagliardi permission to open an auto body division in the building, which has been vacant for 18 months.

“We’re not going to be able to sleep, it will stink of chemicals, there will be an increase in traffic, and there will be no parking in the area,” he said.

DiMento, along with other property owners living adjacent to the North Avenue premises, have collected signatures, appeared at Town Hall meetings, and even started a Google group – currently at about 50 members strong – opposing the auto body’s expansion.

DiMento said that he was aware of Duralectra, an aluminum plating and finishing company, and its impact on the community when he moved into his Tibbetts Street home 12 years ago, but said the company was very quiet with minimal traffic and employees who only worked weekdays and went home by 3 p.m.

DiMento said that despite sitting close to the commuter rail and industrial buildings, the area is an up-and-coming neighborhood, and that residents would prefer to see another type of business in the former Duralectra building.

Neighbors have suggested a wide variety of alternatives, such as a gymnastics space for the area kids to play in, or a hub that would host several small offices, DiMento said.

“The only thing we’re zeroing in on is whatever goes in there has to make sense for the town and the neighbors, and it has to be fair to us,” he said. “If we can stop this permit and consider the other options, we’d be happy to hear what the other options are.”

Gagliardi said he appreciates neighboring residents’ concerns, and looks forward to communicating with them, but doesn’t believe expanding to the North Avenue location would be a detriment to the neighborhood, as he mainly wants to use the space as an office building.

Also, on a busy day at his shop, Gagliardi said he only sees up to 10 customers, which he said would not increase the traffic dramatically.

“We’re not a high volume type of a store – it’s just not that type of industry,” he said. “We have times in the year where we pick up the phone and wonder if it’s working. Other times, after a snow or ice storm, we’ll get eight to 10 people coming by.”

However, DiMento said the type of business would attract tow trucks and flatbed vehicles, which would clog up traffic and could potentially funnel the road down into one lane if the auto body vehicles park on the side of the road.

He also said that the shop would be open six days a week, with operating hours that could easily spill over into the evening.

“I’ve passed by Coach and Carriage at 7:30 p.m. before, and their doors are open, banging away and painting away, which is fine on Middlesex Avenue, but you can’t do that in the middle of our neighborhood,” he said.

Gagliardi said while he does not wish to step on Natick residents’ toes, he will continue looking to expand, even if neighbors try to thwart his efforts.

“You have to look to improve yourself and keep up with the industry – if you stand still, you’re actually going backwards,” he said. “I need to keep the business as forward thinking as I can.”

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