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ZBA Approves Zoning Variance For Exit 11 Retail Proposal



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In a unanimous decision, the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) has conditionally approved a land developer’s request for a zoning variance that would allow vehicles to park closer to Berkshire Road (Route 34) than would normally be allowed, in connection with that developer’s proposal to construct a 10,150-square-foot retail center there, near Exit 11 of Interstate 84.

ZBA members on September 4 granted the zoning variance to James F. Walsh for his 2.86-acre property located at 32 Berkshire Road, just east of the overpass that carries I-84’s Exit 11 on-ramp. In granting the setback variance, the ZBA is allowing vehicles to park a minimum 20 feet away from Berkshire Road instead of the normal 50-foot separation distance.

ZBA members said that the “hardship” that the applicant faces stems from the state’s planned “taking” of a portion of his frontage at Berkshire Road for a planned roadway improvement project. ZBA applicants must demonstrate a hardship to receive a zoning variance.

In their action, ZBA members said that the zoning variance is conditional, requiring that the state Department of Transportation (DOT) actually acquire the section of Mr Walsh’s property along Berkshire Road, as is depicted in a map that was presented to the ZBA on September 4. If the state does not acquire that land, Mr Walsh would then need to return to the ZBA for another zoning variance, according to the ZBA.

On September 3, the Board of Selectmen addressed another aspect of Mr Walsh’s proposed retail project, deciding that the town does not want to buy a one-sixth-acre state-owned parcel adjacent to 32 Berkshire Road, which Mr Walsh is negotiating to acquire from the state to expand his development site. (See related story on page A5 of this issue.)

On the night of September 4, after the deadline for this edition of The Newtown Bee, the Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z) was scheduled to hold public hearings on Mr Walsh’s two requested changes of zone for the retail project.

The applicant is seeking to convert the zoning for 32 Berkshire Road from M-5 (Industrial) to B-2 (General Business). He also is seeking to change the zone for the adjacent currently state-owned land from R-2 (Residential) to B-2. The state land does not have a street number.

If the applicant should receive the requested changes of zone, he would be able to submit a site development plan for P&Z review and action on a requested special zoning permit. The project also may require review by the Inland Wetlands Commission (IWC).

The site is in the town’s environmentally sensitive Aquifer Protection District (APD). The site does not have access to municipal sanitary sewers. The property currently is used for a wood mulching operation.

A controversial earlier version of Mr Walsh’s retail proposal, which included drive-through window service for a proposed eatery, was rejected 4-to-1 by the P&Z in a June vote. That proposal drew stiff criticism from some residents of the area who questioned the need for a retail complex there, and especially the need for a drive-through facility. The current version of the retail project does not have a drive-through window.

The current proposal involves a four-tenant building that includes a 2,250-square-foot coffee shop. It would have driveways connecting to Berkshire Road and to Toddy Hill Road.

The DOT’s $17.7-million Exit 11 roadway improvement project is slated to start in the fall of 2020 and be completed sometime in 2022. The improvements, which have been in the planning stages for more than 20 years, are keyed to enhancing traffic flow in an area known for its congestion and long backups during the morning and evening commuter rush periods.

Improvements will include the widening of a section of Berkshire Road, the construction of an auxiliary Exit 11 on-ramp extending from westbound Berkshire Road to provide motorists with access to both eastbound and westbound I-84, and improving the geometry of the existing Exit 11 off-ramp and on-ramp, among other improvements.

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