The debate over a project that would bring a Dunkin' Donuts franchise to the town’s Main Street reached a new plateau Monday, Dec. 21, with the Unity Appeals Board supporting the Planning Board’s decision to allow the project to move forward.

The two-hour internet meeting, which featured attorneys for the town, the abutters and the franchisee, was at times plagued by technology glitches such as people freezing and sound drop-offs.

Initially, Peter Drum, attorney for the abutters, argued that two members of the Appeals Board, Valerie Derosier and Joe Nason, had previously spoken in favor of the project and should recuse themselves because they would be “unable to make a fair opinion.”

An alternate was present, and having enough members in attendance for a quorum, Nason said he was in favor of the project and left the meeting, while Derosier said she had never attended a Planning Board meeting before, and stayed.

Drum’s argument was that the town had not followed the resident-approved ordinance that spells out zoning requirements for downtown commercial projects. He also said the Planning Board’s conclusions were not supported by any evidence presented, and also that abutters were not given enough notice of the project or of the initial Planning Board meeting.

Items such as off-street parking, vehicle noise and exhaust, lighting glare, building design and road upgrades, Drum said, did not meet the standards of the ordinance and were not compatible with the historic character of the downtown village. Drum also argued that the board was required to create a design committee to aid in the review process, which was never done.

“Your ordinance sets the law, and that has to be met,” he said.

Even the actual Dunkin' Donuts sign was brought up by Drum as having fluorescent colors, which is prohibited by the town ordinance in the historic Village District area.

Ted Small, attorney for Dunkin' Donuts franchise owner Colleen Bailey, said there were sufficient findings to support the way the board came to its decision and itemized each point brought up by Drum.

For traffic, Small said, the Department of Transportation conducted a study, and the Planning Board felt comfortable with the findings. “The DOT has approved the traffic flow, and that it is safe,” he said. “This more than meets the standards for the Planning Board.”

The DOT study, Small said, found the existing road was adequate and will not result in unreasonable congestion. “I don’t know what level of detail Mr. Drum is looking for,” he said, “but it is more than is required.”

The parking lot would be screened by vegetation and the lights would be pointed downward, Small said. The building, he felt, would be compatible with the traditional character of the downtown.

As for the town ordinance, Small argued that when there is no clear standard, like when the ordinance states a new design must be “harmonious” with the historic character of the downtown, it is not enforceable because it is too vague.

Planning Board Chairman Don Newell said his board had done a “tremendous” job reviewing the application, which would have limited effect on neighbors. He said the board was impressed with the applicant coming to the Planning Board meeting with studies done by DOT and the Department of Environmental Protection.

Newell admitted the board’s use of the word “felt” as stated in its findings, was ambiguous. “The word ‘feeling’ is subjective and understandably, in a court of law, it can be a little ‘squirrely,’" he said.

When asked about the fluorescent Dunkin' Donuts sign, Newell said the colors used for the new facility will be “muted” from the original colors.

He said the proposed building would be a “good substitute” for the ramshackle farmhouse that is there now. As for the noise factor, Newell said, Main Street has a “good deal of truck traffic that would cover any noise out of the Dunkin' Donuts, in my opinion.”

“The Planning Board did think long and hard about this decision,” he said. “You have the best we could do.”

Abutter Liz Dyer said Unity is known for everyone helping each other, and “really taking care of our town.This project is counter to everything Unity stands for,” she said.

Kristin Mozes, another abutter, who organized the opposition to the franchise, said she was disappointed but not shocked by the board’s decision. “They were determined from the start to vote, based on their bias towards approving the project, and not on the merits of the case,” she said.

“I believe this goes to show how much influence big business can have on a town's decisions,” she said, “even enough to ignore the laws passed by its citizens.”

Mozes said opponents now have a 30-day window to appeal the decision to the Superior Court.