By Jonathan Phelps
---- — IPSWICH — Subway is coming to downtown.
While the franchise owner says it will have a positive impact on the town, many residents and business owners spoke against the chain restaurant’s proposal, saying it would change the character of downtown and take business away from the many mom-and-pop shops.
The Planning Board last night, however, unanimously approved a special permit, allowing a Subway restaurant to open at 32 Central St. The space was previously occupied by Next Step, run by the Coastal Educational Collaborative.
The decision was made during a continued public hearing, which started on May 2.
Lella Tsinopoulos, owner of Super Subs on Wildes Court, told the board last night that multiple residents and downtown businesses collected more than 1,000 signatures over the past couple of weeks opposing the Subway.
She said there are about 18 food establishments in one square block and there isn’t a market for more sandwich shops, roast beef or pizza places.
“The one thing we don’t need is another food business,” Tsinopoulos said yesterday during an interview. “The people who are signing this petition are not in favor of a franchise in the downtown.”
Heidi Paek, co-chairwoman of the Planning Board, said in an interview that “formula” fast-food restaurants are allowed in the central business district with a special permit approval from the board. The restaurants must be pedestrian-oriented and have no drive-thrus, she said.
The Planning Board does not have the authority to limit certain types of businesses from coming to town, she said.
“It is the consumers who determine the marketplace,” Paek said during an interview, noting the board needs strong legal ground for denial.
The board must also consider social and economic needs, potential fiscal impact, traffic flow and safety, compatibility with neighborhood character, and impacts on the natural environment.
There was much debate among the board with two members initially opposing the application before the vote, saying it would have an impact on traffic and change the character of the surrounding area. The application’s approval needed at least four votes from the five-member committee.
“I don’t think it is good for the town,” said member Cathy Chadwick, noting other chains such as Starbucks might follow suit.
Glenn Gibbs, the town’s director of planning and development, explained that the decision has to be made based on the current bylaw, which allows such an establishment. He said a denial “would not stand a chance” against a legal challenge.
Ken Sternburg, who lives on County Road, said the Subway would have a negative impact on the existing restaurants. “And I think it would be a slap in the face of the character of Ipswich,” he said.
Not all residents, however, were opposed to the plan.
“I’ve seen Subways everywhere,” said Oakhurst Street resident Mary Pryor, noting visits to other countries. “I don’t think it will disturb the character of downtown.”
High Street resident Al Boynton, a member of the town’s Historical Commission, noted surrounding store fronts have been vacant for many years. He said any business has a right to open in town based on the rules.
“If there is a place that could use a Subway, this could be it,” he said. “This is an essential area of downtown.”
Daniel Fenderson, who will own and operate the Subway, said he thinks there is a good market for a Subway in the downtown. He said he is planning on moving to town and will run the business like any other small restaurant.
“I want to get to know everyone in town,” he said. “I’ll be the owner-operator on site. It isn’t going to be like a corporate business even though we are using the Subway name.”
Fenderson said the store will blend in with the character of downtown with a hand-carved sign and will have eight to 10 local employees. He said a Subway will help draw more people to downtown because of the name recognition.
“One day they’ll eat at the Subway,” he said. “The next day they will eat somewhere else. Nobody wants to eat at the same place every day.”
Fenderson has previously opened and sold Subway franchises in Gloucester, Haverhill, Bradford, Newburyport, Amesbury and Portsmouth. He said he does not intend to sell the Ipswich store after opening it.
Several hundred signatures in opposition to the Subway have been collected at the Ipswich House of Pizza, said Erald Kerri, a manager there.
“We have such a variety in town with all the mom-and-pop shops and we don’t need another sub shop, especially a chain,” he said. “Ipswich is known for its ma and pop stores.”
Tsinopoulos, who grew up in town and has owned Super Subs since 2000, said there is a need for more variety of stores in town, like a bakery, Mexican restaurant or newspaper/magazine store. Her store opened in town in the 1970s.
She disagrees with the fact Subway might attract more people to downtown.
“I don’t go to Newburyport to go to McDonald’s,” she said. “I don’t go to Portsmouth to go to Quiznos.”