FOXBORO — Foxboro’s “Gem” motto will carry more weight once Foxfield Plaza — a strip mall at the Central Street gateway from Mansfield to Foxboro — shows more sparkle.
Abutter Russ Reardon, 56, of Vernal Avenue offered that viewpoint last Thursday after a plan to remake the old plaza with a 139-room hotel, a bank, restaurants and renovated retail space won key zoning approvals.
“It’s a blight,” Reardon said of the mall in its current condition. “As the leaders of the town say, this is The Gem of Norfolk County. You come in there now, and it’s no gem.”
He said he supports the plan presented by local attorney Frank Spillane and developer Jeffrey Saletin, of Saletin Real Estate Group in Cranston, R.I.
The facility at 369 Central St. would be a Hampton Inn & Suites with the Hilton company.
Mark A. Landry, of High Road Hospitality in Bristol, R.I., said the hotel will offer breakfast to its guests, but not for the general public. The hotel will have a daytime meeting room, but will not host banquets. It will not be an extended-stay hotel.
“It’s a place where we try to stay quiet,” Landry said.
He said the hotel would, however, want to “partner” with local restaurants such as Antonia’s Italian Cuisine, one of the current tenants.
After their presentation and comments from several residents — none of whom opposed the plan — zoning board members J. Neil Forster, Barnett Ovrut and David Brown unanimously approved three special permits and a variance for the project.
One of the special permits would allow a hotel of four stories, 42 feet in height, on the parcel zoned for three stories, 40 feet in height.
The variance allows a front yard setback of 50 feet where 100 feet is required.
Reardon said he is glad the site is targeted for new commercial development, rather for another apartment complex.
“I think it will be a great addition to Foxfield Plaza,” agreed Dan Miller, a Roberts Street resident who lives on the opposite side of Route 140, where a 248-unit apartment complex is proposed off Fisher Street.
“I think it’s better than what was proposed before,” said Leo Potter of Alex Lane, a retired Foxboro water and sewer superintendent, who had raised concerns about a Big Y supermarket plan there that fell through a couple of years ago.
The Foxborough Boulevard access near Commercial Street (Route 140) — now the back of the mall — would be redesigned as the main entrance to the new site to attract business and reduce neighborhood impacts in the Central Street area.
“It’s really going to be the gateway into Foxboro coming off Route 140 in Mansfield,” Saletin said later, noting that the plaza stands at the Mansfield-Foxboro town line.
A 24-foot-wide landscaped driveway will span the site between Commercial and Central Streets, winding past the hotel, which will sit on what is now the Foxboro Furniture side of the parcel.
That shape of the driveway will have a traffic calming effect, said project manager Eric Prive of DiPrete Engineering.
Endorsing the idea of the interior driveway, Reardon, the Vernal Avenue abutter, said motorists now race across the Foxfield Plaza parking lot, using it as a shortcut between Central Street and Foxborough Boulevard or Route 140.
The L-shaped retail mall will be rebuilt and reshaped. The wing which currently ends at Bangkok Cafe will be shortened. The Foxboro Furniture building, the current anchor, will be replaced by the hotel.
The lot totals about 11.4 acres — 9.7 acres in Foxboro, zoned for highway business, plus 1.7 acres in Mansfield, zoned residential. No building is planned on the Mansfield side, Spillane said.
Saletin praised the existing businesses located in Foxfield Plaza and said he looks forward to talking with those who are interested in staying in the renovated mall.
“We feel it would be a real good home for those tenants who want to stay on with us,” Saletin said.
The project still needs to go before the planning board and the conservation commission.
After the developer’s informal presentation to the planning board on July 9, chairman Kevin Weinfeld wrote that his board supports the concept and will review the specifics during the formal site plan hearing, which has yet to be scheduled.
“The project will help to re-energize a tired development in town,” Weinfeld wrote, adding that it’s located in an area targeted for growth in Foxboro’s master plan; would also reduce the number of curb cuts on Central Street; and would help reduce speeding cut-through traffic.
Town manager Bill Keegan also supports the concept, building commissioner Bill Casbarra told the zoning board.