Publication: Eagle Tribune
Author: John Toole

When Jim Vitas, president of North Andover-based VMD Companies LLC, approached Planning Director Jeff Gowan about a bank project, Gowan knew he had something important for the town.

Vitas wasn’t disclosing his client, but characterized the bank as “specializing in local lending.”

Gowan recognized the potential for consumers and small businesses to have a friendly face on the other side of the loan application, as well as access to capital for buying homes and growing companies in town.

He immediately reached out to members of the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Adjustment and the Conservation Commission. Yes, the volunteers members were willing to work together on this one for the benefit of the community.

Joint sessions and site walks might mean a few extra hours or nights away from the family, but so be it. This was about the town’s future. Less than 60 days later, the project was, well, in the bank.

Welcome to Pelham, Enterprise Bank.

“This project set a new record for commercial project permitting in Pelham, 54 days from the first joint hearing on March 24 until approval on April 18,” Gowan said.

“Huge,” is how Vitas characterizes the response of town officials.

“In general? Something with these types of hurdles and issues calls for an eight-month timeframe,” Vitas said. “By allowing us to assemble joint hearings with the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Adjustment and Conservation Commission, they expedited the project significantly.”

Vitas said it is unusual these days for local officials to be so responsive.

“You don’t find that in municipalities anymore,” Vitas said. “From day one, they supported the project because they saw the benefits it would bring.”

What Pelham will get for its effort is a bank friendly to local business, Vitas said.

“This is a bank that supports Main Street,” he said, “not Wall Street.”

Enterprise will have a 3,200-square-foot branch in the heart of the town’s commercial area at 139 Bridge St. when it opens in the spring of 2012. CEO Jack Clancy already has said Enterprise plans to support civic and charitable causes in town.

Hurdles identified early

The hurdles Vitas references involved working around wetlands issues and taking flood prevention steps at the town’s insistence.

Gowan flagged those early, so Vitas and his associates already had mitigation plans in place when residents questioned whether the project might aggravate flooding problems. That didn’t come cheap. Gowan estimates the work will add $60,000 to the development costs.

Gowan commends the responsiveness of VMD and its associates: TRB Development Group Inc., Michael J. Keane Architects, Allen & Major Associates and Turner Consulting.

“The key thing that happened is that when some issue was identified, it was addressed by them,” Gowan said.

From the start, VMD and its associates were willing to work with the town, agreeing up front to have the Planning Board’s design review consultant, Keach-Nordstrom Associates Inc., get a look at the plans before hearing.

“While there were challenges in terms of the site, they met the challenges,” Gowan said.

Gowan also has good things to say about the town’s volunteer board members, for their flexibility and commitment.

“This thing really did get scrutinized as carefully as any plan,” Gowan said.

“This was a win-win for the applicant and the town,” said Peter McNamara, chairman of the Planning Board and a member of the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

Key were the joint board review and the developer’s responsiveness, McNamara said.

“This wouldn’t have worked so well if both sides hadn’t been accommodating,” he said.

While the Conservation Commission split 3-2 in favor, both the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Adjustment gave it unanimous approval.

“I think this will serve as a good model for future development in the town,” McNamara said.

Selectmen’s Chairman Edmund Gleason said he’s enthused about the project and what it means for citizens in terms of more banking options. Gleason also had good words for Gowan.

“Jeff has been very energetic and proactive in trying to expand business and commercial development within Pelham,” Gleason said. “I believe that Jeff’s approach has been instrumental in introducing new business opportunities for Pelham and will result in a favorable image for the town within the business and commercial communities.”

Enterprise Bank was pleased, too.

“While we had little direct involvement in the site plan review process, we were very impressed with the collaborative effort of the developer, the town of Pelham and their local review engineers,” said Enterprise Bank president Richard W. Main. “Pelham’s willingness to work with the developer reaffirms Enterprise’s decision to select this community as the home of our next branch.”

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