A Trumbull firm has gained Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) approval to construct a gas station/convenience store, including a food service area, at 67 Church Hill Road, at that street’s western corner with Edmond Road.
Following two March 20 public hearings on the matter, P&Z members unanimously approved the project, which is known as Wheels, submitted by Consumers Petroleum of Connecticut, Inc (CPCI).
To make way for the new construction, CPCI would demolish an existing deteriorating building on the one-acre site that formerly held a Shell gas station/convenience store. As a condition of the special permit approval, the P&Z is requiring that the structure be demolished by mid-May.
Town officials have long sought to get the dilapidated building demolished, because it is located near Exit 10 of Interstate 84, which is considered one of the visual “gateways” into Newtown.
Under the terms of the town’s recently approved anti-blight ordinance, in February the owner of a dilapidated vacant commercial building at nearby 57 Church Hill Road had his building demolished.
At the first of two public hearings on March 20, P&Z members unanimously approved revised zoning regulations governing gas station/convenience stores, which liberalize the rules on such land uses.
The CPCI application for Wheels is based on the terms of those revised rules.
Under the new regulations, the maximum size of such a use increases from 1,500 square feet to 3,500 square feet.
Also, the revised regulations allow a gas station/convenience store to have a mechanized car wash on the premises, provided that the P&Z grants a special permit for such a car wash.
The CPCI application for Wheels does not include a car wash.
But the owners of the gas station/convenience store across the street at 64 Church Hill Road, known as Newtown Mobil, now plan to seek a special permit for a car wash from the P&Z. Newtown Mobil is owned by Sundaram, LLC.
In a 2012 attempt to build Wheels at 67 Church Hill Road, CPCI received several zoning variances involving property-line setbacks from the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA).
But Sundaram challenged those variances in an administrative appeal in Danbury Superior Court. That appeal is pending in court. Both the ZBA and CPCI are defendants.
George Benson, the town’s director of planning and land use, has said that CPCI’s current plans for Wheels are designed so that no zoning variances are required to build it, thus circumventing the pending lawsuit which is based on the previous plan’s need for zoning variances. Mr Benson has said that the pending court case could take years to resolve.
The zoning rule revisions approved by the P&Z on March 20 thus provide the town with a mechanism to have the existing decaying building at 67 Church Hill Road demolished and replaced with a more attractive modern facility. Also, the pending lawsuit would be dropped by Sundaram.
The rule changes also allow CPCI to construct a 3,400-square-foot gas station/convenience store, which includes a food service area. Such food service facilities would not have tables for customers. No drive-through window would be allowed.
Also, the revised rules would allow Newtown Mobil to add a long-wanted mechanized car wash at its one-acre site, thus providing an incentive for Sundaram to drop its pending court appeal.
After conferring with CPCI and with Sundaram about the town’s desire to spur redevelopment on Church Hill Road, the P&Z itself proposed the revised zoning regulations.
At the second public hearing, attorney Robert Hall, representing Sundaram, said that Sundaram’s appeal has been “languishing” in court for nearly two years.
Some months ago, Sundaram started discussing the situation with CPCI, he said, adding that the two firms made the transition from being in “competition” to being in “cooperation.”
The revised zoning regulations would allow Newtown Mobil to seek installing a mechanized car wash at the southeast section of its property, he said. As viewed from Church Hill Road, that area lies at the left-rear section of the property.
Newtown Mobil has long wished to have a car wash on the property, Mr Hall said.
Mr Hall said Newtown Mobil will soon submit a P&Z application for a special permit to install a car wash. Mr Hall said Newtown Mobil would provide its customers with a discounted price for using the car wash, provided that they buy a certain amount of fuel.
The revised zoning regulations also allow CPCI to build a gas station/convenience store with a food service area, he noted.
Mr Benson said the revised P&Z regulations mirror the zoning rule changes which the Borough Zoning Commission (BZC) made when CPCI had sought approval for a gas station/convenience store in the borough.
In January 2008, CPCI received BZC approval for a gas station/convenience store at 47 Church Hill Road, a project which would have replaced the existing Church Hill Gas Stop gas station there with much larger, modern facility. The site is across Church Hill Road from the St Rose Church campus.
CPCI, however, never proceeded with those plans.
At the March 20 hearing on CPCI’s Wheels project, the applicant explained that Wheels would be open 24 hours a day for gasoline service. Up to six vehicles could be fueled simultaneously. The hours for food service are as-yet unclear.
When all aspects of the business are in operation, four or five employees would be working at the site.
Civil engineer Mark Smith, representing CPCI, said that instead of the existing three “curb cuts” along the property’s Church Hill Road frontage, Wheels would have only one curb cut where traffic would enter from Church Hill Road and exit onto Church Hill Road.
P&Z members asked that CPCI seek approval from the state Department of Transportation (DOT) to increase the width of that planned curb cut from 24 feet to 36 feet. Such a wider curb cut would allow two exit lanes and one entrance lane, instead of one exit lane and one entrance lane.
When Edmond Road is eventually relocated, Wheels also would have an access point from that street holding one entrance lane and one exit lane.
Mr Hall, representing Sundaram, endorsed CPCI’s application for Wheels, saying that the firm has taken all possible steps to coordinate its development with the planned relocation of the southern end of Edmond Road.
The P&Z’s approval of Wheels sets the stage for CPCI to build the project before the DOT begins work on a planned realignment of the widely-offset intersection of Church Hill Road, Edmond Road, and Commerce Road.
DOT is in the preliminary design stage of a traffic safety project that will create a conventional four-way signalized intersection of Church Hill Road, Commerce Road, and Edmond Road.
In the project, the southern end of Edmond Road would be shifted westward so that Edmond Road becomes part of a four-way intersection with the other roads. The roads now comprise a broadly offset intersection, with the southern end of Edmond Road lying about 250 feet east of the northern end of Commerce Road.
That area has one of the highest accident rates in the ten-town Housatonic Valley Regional Planning Area, resulting in the DOT intersection construction project to simplify traffic flow there.
The DOT plans to hold a public information meeting in Newtown on the intersection project by mid-year. The project is expected to start construction in 2016.