Orleans Underground Mall Would Be Demolished, Replaced Under New Proposal

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Development

F.W. Webb Company is proposing to demolish the Underground Mall on Route 6A in Orleans and build a new 32,000-square-foot retail and wholesale building. ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO 

ORLEANS — This Webb site might draw a lot of attention. And this site would be real, not virtual.

F.W. Webb Company, purveyor of plumbing, lighting supplies and more, wants to demolish two buildings at Bayberry Square, also known as the Underground Mall, on Route 6A near the Brewster line and build a 32,000-square foot building. For comparison’s sake, the former Hearth & Kettle at nearby Skaket Corners is 5,092 square feet.

The location is in a General Business zone next to a car wash and other industrial uses and sits next to Exit 12 of Route 6. It’s a gateway to the town coming from Brewster along 6A and is in the Old King’s Highway Regional Historical District, which needs to approve the proposed demolition and construction. The OKH committee will hold a preliminary review Feb. 6 at 6:30 p.m. at town hall.

At his board’s Jan. 22 meeting, Selectman David Currier criticized the plan. “Thirty-two thousand square feet,” he said, “on the Old King’s Highway. Welcome to Orleans.” He said the town’s zoning needs to do a better job of not letting “big box stores go into places like where my property is.” Currier has a bowling alley, restaurant, and laundromat farther east on Route 6A.

The former Underground Mall had been considered as a site for affordable housing, but the selling price, cost of demolition, and its location outside the area to be sewered were among the factors that argued against that.

Bedford-based F.W. Webb Company describes itself as “a family-owned business proudly offering a full array of outstanding products, services and expertise to residential and commercial contractors and industry professionals” ranging from “the one-truck contractor to the facility manager of a large complex.” It cites “roots going back to 1866,” claims more than 2,000 employees, and says it’s “the largest wholesale distributor of its kind in the Northeast” with more than 80 locations in nine states. Its core business includes plumbing, heating, HVAC and refrigeration, and pipes, valves and fittings. There are also about 40 Frank Webb Home showrooms featuring bath, kitchen, and lighting fixtures for homeowners; the nearest of these is in Independence Park in Hyannis, which also has a wholesale warehouse for commercial customers. The Hyannis location has 63,280 square feet of gross floor area.

In a phone interview, F.W. Webb’s chief operating officer, Bob Mucciarone, confirmed that the proposed Orleans location would offer wholesale merchandise (an allowed use in the district) for contractors as well as retail showrooms for homeowners. That will certainly affect other such businesses in Orleans, known as the business hub of this end of the Cape.

“We think there’s a hole in that area and a need for what we provide,” Mucciarone said.

He said the company was attracted to the site by its convenient access from Route 6 and because “there are a lot of customers in that area to sell to.” He said the site is under a purchase and sales agreement while the company does its due diligence, including securing permits.

During an informal site plan review Jan. 15, Andy McBeth of Green Leaf Construction and Nicole Dunphy, project manager with Highpoint Engineering, Inc., detailed plans to demolish two buildings, their septic systems and utilities at 17 Nell Way and build a new facility with “designated parking, loading docks, outdoor storage area... new utility services…, new Title 5 septic system, and stormwater collection system with subsurface infiltration system,” according to draft minutes of the site plan review committee meeting. The draft notes indicate that “McBeth stated that F.W. Webb sells wholesale plumbing and lighting supplies by appointment.”

“Previous conversations seemed to indicate there would be more of a retail component since wholesale is allowed in this district,” the town’s building department commented. It appears that a permitting thicket looms before the project, including three special permits and perhaps a variance from the zoning board of appeals as well a return to the site plan committee for formal review. The planning department noted that 82 parking spaces would be required rather than the 39 proposed.

After some consultation, Director of Planning and Community Development George Meservey said this week that the project would not trigger a mandatory development of regional impact referral to the Cape Cod Commission. The company proposal would result in a net increase of less than 10,000 square feet of gross floor space at the site. That’s a step that will require reducing the planned mezzanine level from 18,000 to 7,000 square feet.

Asked whether a discretionary referral to the commission for DRI review could be made, Meservey confirmed that the town’s permitting boards and the board of selectmen can make such a request. During the selectmen’s Jan. 22 meeting, Town Administrator John Kelly said a previous board had opposed a major car dealership’s proposal to locate across from Shaw’s off Route 6A; it found a new site elsewhere in town. “You could take an active role in supporting or opposing (the Webb building),” he told the board. “It may not even be able to be built there.”

Selectman Mefford Runyon said it was time to get an outside opinion on the town’s zoning. “We should hire a good attorney to come in and tell us where the weaknesses are,” he said. Selectmen Chairman Mark Mathison agreed.

“We need to sit down as a board of selectmen and look at what we need to be doing as elected officials here to examine our zoning practices and have an attorney come in here and tell us where we’re vulnerable. We need to have a discussion with the zoning board and the planning board as to where they are. Are we being responsible?”