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Borough Zoners OK Lexington Gardens Project

Borough Zoners OK Lexington Gardens Project

By Andrew Gorosko

The Borough Zoning Commission (BZC) this week unanimously approved a major commercial redevelopment project for a 6.3-acre site at 30-32 Church Hill Road, known as The Villages at Lexington Gardens.

Following a September 19 public hearing on the application submitted by owner Newtown Savings Bank, BZC members approved a special zoning permit, a Village District zoning permit, and a site development plan for the project. The site is on the south side of Church Hill Road, across Church Hill Road from The Boulevard.

Following the approval, attorney Peter Scalzo, representing the bank, said he expects that the bank will sell the site and the development rights to it to an undisclosed developer by the end of 2012. Construction of the project is targeted to start next spring, he said.

The plans approved by the BZC call for adding 60,500 square feet of new commercial space at 32 Church Hill Road in the form of four two-story buildings — one 28,000-square-foot structure, two 13,000-square-foot buildings, and one 6,500-square-foot structure. Each building would have retail space at ground level and office space on the second story.

To make way for that new construction, the former Lexington Gardens plant nursery and garden shop would be demolished.

Newtown Savings Bank would occupy a planned 6,500-square-foot building near the street at 32 Church Hill Road. It is unclear what other businesses would occupy the other commercial space to be built.

Also, an existing flat-roofed, two-story, red-brick 16,000-square-foot commercial building at 30 Church Hill Road would receive a variety of external improvements to enhance its appearance, making it visually complementary to the proposed new construction at 32 Church Hill Road.

Gable-ended roofing and other features would be added to improve the building’s appearance. The structure holds retail space at the ground level and office space on the second story.

The applicant is seeking approval from state traffic officials to install a four-way traffic control signal that would regulate traffic flow at a four-way intersection of Church Hill Road, The Boulevard, and a driveway for the redevelopment project.

The phasing of that traffic signal would be synchronized with the phasing of an existing traffic signal at the intersection of Church Hill Road and Queen Street.

Architecture

Architectural firm Bennett Sullivan Associates of Southbury represents the applicant. Architect Hugh Sullivan explained the project’s design with numerous graphics and a three-dimensional video presentation.

The project’s design would be similar to that of Toro Restaurant at the adjacent 28 Church Hill Road, a project that also was designed by Bennett Sullivan Associates, Mr Sullivan said.

At the public hearing, Monsignor Robert E. Weiss, the pastor of the nearby St Rose of Lima Church, asked whether the traffic-control agents who regulate traffic flow on Church Hill Road at the church driveway would be trained to deal with the presence of a new traffic signal.

Msgr Weiss noted that St Rose School’s student enrollment has increased and that more parents have been personally transporting their children to school than in the past, making for more school-related traffic in the area.

Msgr Weiss said he is concerned about both the morning and the afternoon traffic implications of new development in the area, as it would affect student travel.

Traffic engineer Michael Galante, representing the applicant, said that he would discuss the issue with the police chief.

The Church Hill Road traffic agents will need to adapt to the presence of an additional traffic signal in the area, Mr Galante said.

Such traffic agents work on Church Hill Road in front of St Rose School and Hawley School at times when students arrive and depart from school.

The redevelopment project would have an internal driveway link to the adjacent shopping center that holds Caraluzzi’s Food Market at 5 Queen Street in order to alleviate traffic pressure on Church Hill Road.

BZC Comments

Following the BZC public hearing, but before the vote to approve the project, BZC members commented.

“I think it meets all our requirements…I think it’s going to serve everybody well,” said BZC member Brid Craddock.

The project is a big project, but the specific architectural design makes it an attractive project, said BZC member Lucy Emerson Sullivan.

BZC member David Francis, who served as acting chairman, said that the planned new traffic signal is much needed.

“The [applicant’s] presentation was wonderful…This is something we will be proud of,” said BZC member Linda Shepard.

Donald Mitchell, the BZC’s attorney, broadly questioned whether to allow construction of the two 13,000-square-foot commercial buildings, noting that the Village District regulations restrict the size of such new buildings to 6,500 square feet. The planned 28,000-square-foot building is not affected by that regulation.

Ms Craddock noted that modifying the 6,500-square-foot size limit rule is permissible. “It’s in the ‘intent’ of the regulations…It’s appropriate for this site,” she said.

Mr Francis observed that the “intent” of the Village District zoning regulations permits developers to propose construction that would exceed the 6,500-square-foot size limit.