Log In

Reset Password

P&Z Supports New EverWonder Location, Makes Hawleyville Parcel Industrial Again



Text Size

On the evening of March 2, the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) met at Newtown Municipal Center to discuss the EverWonder Children’s Museum and a familiar Hawleyville parcel — with related business involving applications for a text amendment and zone change.

P&Z members present were chair Dennis Bloom, Roy Meadows, Corrine Cox, Gregory Rich, Brian Leonardi, Connie Widmann, and David Rosen. Newly appointed Land Use Agency Director Rob Sibley was also in attendance.

The first item on the agenda was Application 23.03 by Newtown Children’s Museum doing business as (DBA) EverWonder Children’s Museum. It was for a text amendment to the zoning regulations of the Town of Newtown, to allow public museums on lots with a minimum of one acre to §4.01.217 of the zoning regulations.

Currently, EverWonder Children’s Museum is located at 31 Pecks Lane in Newtown. The nonprofit is seeking the text amendment in order to move to a larger facility.

EverWonder Board Chairman Aaron Coopersmith and Executive Director Merredith Christos spoke on behalf of the application.

“We are looking to move to 11 Mile Hill Road in Newtown … it is a beautiful space that has ample room and has a hundred car parking spaces,” Coopersmith said.

Bloom asked how large the building is and if work needs to be done to it.

Coopersmith answered, “The building is 20,000 square feet — top level is 10,000 square feet, the bottom is another 10,000 square feet … it is all up-to-date. It is a concrete and steel building.”

He noted that “the parking lot is impeccable.” They also have a contractor and museum architect that would be designing the space to fit their needs.

Christos explained that the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) children’s museum has been at its current leased location since 2015.

“We have been looking for a proper home for EverWonder, which is quite difficult to find given our parameters and our needs … most commercial spaces are too small for where we need to grow into, or they don’t have ample parking. This building was brought to our attention actually by the owner, knowing that EverWonder was looking for space and the building was empty for the first time,” she explained.

Christos added that they have come to a “lease to purchase” agreement to allow the space to be EverWonder’s “forever home.”

Meadows asked about the museum’s audience, to which Christos said it is designed for children ages newborn to 10 and their families. They hope to expand to age 12 if given more space.

Cox voiced that she hopes they can include middle school age children and Christos agreed. Christos went on to say that EverWonder had about 20,000 visitors per year before the pandemic began in 2020.

“Right now, we are turning away visitors constantly because of our capacity. We are hitting about 28,000 to 30,000 [annually] ... If we move into a larger space, roughly 10,000 to 11,000 square feet, our projections are set to be around 60,000 visitors,” she said.

Christos noted that visitors do not come all at once; they have tickets for certain times.

After no one spoke up in the public participation portion, Sibley took the time to mention, “Just for clarification, this is for the text amendment to add the permitted use of the museum … permitted uses have to apply for the site development plan process for this commission.”

So, if P&Z approves the application, EverWonder would be coming back to them with a site development plan.

Leonardi recommended they modify the text amendment to a special exception to allow public museums on lots with a minimum of one acre to §4.01.316 of the zoning regulations.

The commission then took a motion to vote, and unanimously approved Application 23.03.

When the vote was done, the applicant’s supporters in the room cheered and clapped.

Hawleyville Zoning

The next public hearing of the night was for Application 23.04 by the Town of Newtown, for a zone change located at 90 Mount Pleasant Road, to change the zone from R-2 to M-2A.

The 90 Mount Pleasant Road property was previously an industrial M-2A zone prior to Farrell Building Company’s recent applications to build 200 apartments on the property.

At the time, the company had submitted two applications to P&Z: one for the zone change and one for the project. While the zone change was approved by the commission to make the parcel residential (R-2), the project itself was denied.

It was a controversial decision and, as a result, the town is now requesting it be brought back to an industrial zone. Sibley told P&Z that he has written letters of support from the 90 Mt Pleasant Road property owners and members of the public.

Meadows said, “If the [owners] want to revert back to the M-2A, I support that … but as I analyzed the property — I walked the property a couple times and looked at it. I’ve looked at the M-2A regulation, and by it being zoned M-2A it’s fairly limited to the number of uses in there that you can really get on that property.”

He believed that to be true due to the steepness of the land.

Bloom said that the property should have stayed an M-2A zone and not been changed recently.

During public participation, Newtown resident Pat Napolitano said, “My neighbors fully understand that the property is available, and that the owner has a right to develop it. They are reasonable and they certainly would go along with anything that would be appropriate for that area.”

He concluded by saying that he thinks that the majority of his neighbors would prefer 90 Mt Pleasant Road be an M-2A zone instead of a residential zone.

According to meeting minutes, Application 23.04 was approved 4-1 with commissioners Bloom, Meadows, Cox, and Widmann in favor, while Rich was opposed.

The next P&Z meeting will be Thursday, March 16, at 7 pm, at Newtown Municipal Center.

Reporter Alissa Silber can be reached at alissa@thebee.com.

Newtown Planning and Zoning Commission members and town representatives sit at desks in Newtown Municipal Center’s Council Chambers on the evening of March 2. Standing is EverWonder Children’s Museum Executive Director Merredith Christos and Board Chairman Aaron Coopersmith listening to the cheers from the audience after their application passed.
Comments are open. Be civil.
  1. tomj says:

    60,000 people a year will be going to a business at mile hill? Where is the lighting study, where is the traffic study, and where is the environmental outrage/study?

    1. digs4it says:

      I don’t understand the concern…the museum has been open for years on Pecks Lane and the size of the building can easily hold them. 60,000 visitors a year is less than 200 people per day, of which at least 1/2 are children. Plus spread out over the course of the day, it’s only 15-16 cars per hour during their daytime business hours. Plus EverWonder is known for working to improve our community and unlikely to place any more harm on the environment than those already driving by daily. I think the author hit the nail on the head & EverWonder has found the absolute best place for their home, and thankfully that’s in Newtown where our business can thrive from their success!

Leave a Reply