Friday, July 12, 2024

A rendering of a used car dealership to be built at 307 Fresh Pond Parkway, in the Alewife neighborhood.

A used-car dealership is approved to take over a prominent space on Fresh Pond Parkway where the former Tokyo Restaurant has sat decaying for well over a decade. It will operate in conjunction with the Mobil gas station and Abe’s Complete Auto Service to its rear as a family business; dad runs the gas station and auto shop, and son runs the car dealership.

Despite neighborhood concern about how the property will be handled after years of neglect and casual violation of city law, details of how the dealership will work are sketchy.

The son and future manager of Fresh Pond Auto Sales, Eddie Lakkis, sat with the License Commission on Wednesday to promise that all cars for sale will be kept inside a handsome new building, while the attached parking lot would be for employees and customers only, with no overnight parking allowed.

How many cars?

The new, 6,000-square-foot structure on the 13,909-square-foot lot at 307 Fresh Pond Parkway would hold from 20 to 25 cars, Lakkis said.

When Acting Fire Chief Gerard Mahoney wondered how the sales reps would handle customers who wanted a test drive, Lakkis assured him that it would be easy to get any of the cars to giant doors opening onto the parking lot. “The layout inside will always be accessible for any vehicle to make it out without having to move more than one car,” Lakkis said.

Lakkis and his three-person team presenting the plan didn’t bring a layout of how that would work, and ultimately asked if a “sketch” would be helpful.

“I would say there’s no way you could put 20 motor vehicles in a 6,000-square-foot building,” Mahoney said. “I think you’d be doing well to have maybe 10.”

Project architect Hans Strauch agreed: “I would say there’s likely there would be less than [20 to 25 cars].”

Representing neighbors concerned with how the lot has been handled over the past years, city councillor Jan Devereux said, “It would seem to me fairly fundamental for someone operating a business where the car sales are required to happen indoors to have a firm idea of how many cars that facility can fit.” The chairwoman of the commission, Nicole Murati Ferrer, agreed.

Asked later how Fresh Pond Auto Sales could even have a business plan based on expected sales when it wasn’t known how many cars would fit in its showroom, Lakkis said cars would be kept in a warehouse offsite until they were brought to the lot for sale, and that his lawyers had possession of a business plan.

Hopes for improvement

Fresh Pond Auto Sales has a five-year lease on the site with up to two five-year extensions. The building is being designed to reproduce the closed restaurant in foundation and size, possibly even reusing elements of the existing structure, according to Lakkis’ team, and was done with at least three months of consultation with city staff. The site will have bicycle parking, and it was promised that lights will be angled so illumination won’t spill off the lot.

The Tokyo Restaurant has been closed, and its property decaying, for more than a decade.

“That terrible eyesore will be removed for a very attractive new building,” said Ted Regnante, a Wakefield lawyer representing Lakkis, referring to the Tokyo Restaurant.

Neighbors have long complained about site graffiti, clutter, illegal use as parking and storage, inadequate fencing and poor winter snow and ice removal. A former owner’s plan in January 2014 to put up a 20-unit condominium building with 20 parking spaces went nowhere after fierce opposition from neighbors, city planners said, and the property sold 10 months later to Elie al-Lakkis, owner of the gas station and auto service. Al-Lakkis and his EMJR Properties hoped in 2015 to use the property to expand his auto repair business; when the Board of Zoning Appeal rejected the plan, he tried last year for permission to simply use the space for parking for up to 18 cars – which neighbors pointed out he’d been doing without permission – and withdrew the petition Aug. 25 from consideration by the board. The used-car dealership was his next idea, as car sales are included in zoning already; a Honda dealership is just down the street.

The land has long been eyed by city officials for affordable housing, and city councillors were also looking at the parcel in the context of a $200 million-plus rebuilding of the neighboring elementary school and Vassal Lane Upper School. But with License Commission approval and yearly renewals, use as a used-car dealership is now a lock.

“It’s been a sore spot in the neighborhood for many, many years,” Devereux said of the site. “I hope this will be an improvement, but I guess I’m somewhat skeptical.”