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February 24. 2012 11:00PM

Planning board OKs new movie theater

EPPING — The planning board approved plans Thursday for a 10-screen movie theater with stadium seating and waivers that will allow two large billboard signs to be placed along Route 101 to draw customers to the new Brickyard Square shopping center.

After shrinking its original proposal, Londonderry-based O'neil Cinemas is moving ahead with plans for a 25,788-square-foot cinema that will seat 1,265 and offer digital projection and sound, 3-D capabilities and motion seating, a feature that synchronizes seats to the movie. O'neil Cinemas owns exclusive rights to motion seating in New Hampshire, O'neil said.

The cinema is expected to open in September.

“I'm very excited about coming into the Epping area,” cinema owner Dan O'neil Sr., whose company also operates a theater in Londonderry and another one in Connecticut, told the planning board at Thursday's meeting.

The movie plan was first proposed in 2009 when O'neil planned to build a 40,659-square-foot 12-screen theater. The plan was later shelved, but it's now been reworked and reduced in size.

The theater will stand alone near the back of the 260,000-square-foot Brickyard Square plaza under construction at the intersection of routes 101 and 125.

Waterstone Retail Development, the company building the center, was also given permission to put two billboard signs, each 672 square feet, on the property along the eastbound side of Route 101. The company needed waivers because town regulations only allow a maximum of 40-square-foot signs.

Some planning board members expressed concerns about allowing billboards on Route 101. The billboards will be used to advertise the tenants in the plaza and will change every few weeks.

“I drive 101 and I don't think there are a lot of intersections on 101 that have billboards,” said planning board alternate Joe Foley. “I don't think this is consistent with where we want our community.”

But board Chairman Mike Morasco and others agreed that while the signs are much larger than what's allowed by town zoning, the economic benefits of the large shopping center and movie theater are positive for the region and Route 101 is a better spot for billboards than other parts of town.

“This isn't opening the doors for everyone on 101 in Epping to have signs like this. This is a specific targeted reason for putting these signs up,” Morasco said.

Doug Richardson, director of development for Waterstone, said the billboards will have design elements and architecture and won't be “just a frame on a stick.”

Meanwhile, Waterstone officials said the addition of the movie theater will make it much easier to attract restaurants and other retailers to the center, where Marshalls, Dress Barn, Famous Footwear and PetSmart plan to open at the end of March next to Market Basket. More stores are expected to open in the coming months, along with a Michael's craft store opening this fall.