As commuter traffic rolled by at about 7:30 am on Thursday, May 29, all that was left of a longstanding local eyesore was a pile of demolition debris sitting next to a hulking bright yellow excavator on the western corner lot at Church Hill Road and Edmond Road.
On Thursday, May 22, a work crew had arrived at 67 Church Hill Road where a vacant former Shell gas station/convenience store had stood empty for the past several years, becoming progressively decrepit, the victim of wind and weathering.
The workers proceeded to remove remaining pieces of asbestos from the building and its roof before its demolition by excavator could start.
The building had been scheduled for demolition by mid-May, but delays resulted in the excavator not swinging its massive arm at the structure to topple it until Friday, May 23.
Portable fencing was positioned at the site to keep pedestrians away from the work.
Town officials had long sought to have the decaying building demolished, citing its prominent location on Church Hill Road, near Exit 10 of Interstate 84, as being one of the “visual gateways” of Newtown, which interstate travelers encounter when entering the local road network.
First Selectman Pat Llodra said this week, “The town has been working on improvements to the Exit 10 area off Church Hill Road for several years. This is part of a larger initiative to grow our commercial/industrial base and enhance our grand list.
“The gateways to our community are very important — these entry points send ‘messages’ to potential residents and investors about how we care for ourselves, and that we understand the impact of blighted areas and unkempt spaces on the general tax worthiness of land and buildings,” she added.
“The focus on the now-demised Shell station is part of a much larger project that includes realignment of Commerce and Edmond Roads,” she said.
Among changes planned for the area are a traffic-easing project for right-hand turns onto I-84 with the addition of a turning lane, the redevelopment of the demolished area with new construction, the future development of a nearby vacant parcel that once housed a dry-cleaning business, and improved access to the Newtown Pizza Palace restaurant, she said.
“This project has many steps and involves many local and state folks working together,” Mrs Llodra said.
“Our land use department, under [director] George Benson, has played an essential and effective role as facilitator,” Mrs Llodra added.
Mr Benson said this week that it took about two years for all the planning components involved in the Church Hill Road area improvement project to be resolved before the Shell station demolition could occur.
“It was complicated,” he said of the many parties involved in the overall improvement project.
Earlier this year, the town employed its recently created anti-blight ordinance to get demolished a nearby decaying building on Church Hill Road at Wire Road that formerly housed Apex Glass.
Mr Benson said he expects that the redevelopment planned for 67 Church Hill Road will occur before the state creates a new four-way intersection of Church Hill Road, Edmond Road, and Commerce Road.
The one-acre 67 Church Hill Road site will hold a 3,400-square-foot gas station/convenience store which contains a food service area. The project gained town land use approval in March.
The state plans to start work on reconfiguring the intersection in 2016.
The project will shift the southern end of Edmond Road westward so that it forms a conventional four-way signalized intersection with Commerce Road and Church Hill Road. The project is intended to improve travel safety in the high-accident zone.