Exit 11 Retail Proposal Gains Two Zone Changes
A local developer has received two requested changes of zone from the Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z) for a 10,150-square-foot retail center, which is proposed for a 32 Berkshire Road (Route 34) site, near Exit 11 of Interstate 84.
Following a public hearing and discussion at a September 5 P&Z session, P&Z members voted 4-to-1 to approve the two changes of zone for applicant James F. Walsh. Voting in favor were Chairman Don Mitchell, Barbara Manville, Ben Toby, and David Ruhs. Jim Swift dissented. The action becomes effective September 28.
The project, however, still requires a P&Z special zoning permit based on the specifics of an anticipated site development plan, an aquifer protection approval, and possibly an Inland Wetlands Commission (IWC) wetlands/watercourses protection permit.
The P&Z action changes the zoning designation on a 3.06-acre parcel at 32 Berkshire Road from M-5 (Industrial) to B-2 (General Business). It also conditionally changes the zoning designation on an adjacent landlocked 0.118-acre state-owned parcel from R-2 (Residential) to B-2.
The P&Z action thus places a B-2 zoning designation on 3.178 acres proposed for redevelopment. The smaller landlocked parcel does not have a street number.
On September 4, the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) conditionally approved a front-yard setback zoning variance for Mr Walsh, which would allow vehicles at a commercial complex to park closer to Berkshire Road than would normally be allowed. That variance was conditionally granted by the ZBA because as part of a planned state Department of Transportation (DOT) road improvement project for the Exit 11 interchange area, the state plans to acquire some of the current road frontage at 32 Berkshire Road owned by Mr Walsh.
Civil engineer Kevin Solli, representing Mr Walsh, told P&Z members September 5 that after the DOT makes planned road improvements, existing traffic congestion problems along Berkshire Road during commuter rush periods will be greatly relieved.
Converting the land’s zoning designation to B-2 will allow the retail center to have a restaurant as a permitted use, he noted. The current redevelopment proposal involves a four-tenant 10,150-square-foot building that includes a 2,250-square-foot coffee shop. The project would have driveways connecting to Berkshire Road and to Toddy Hill Road. The land currently is used for a wood mulching operation.
In June, Mr Walsh had proposed that a retail center at 32 Berkshire Road contain a drive-through window at an eatery, but P&Z members rejected that development proposal in a 4-to-1 vote after fielding public comment, which was heavily opposed to allowing drive-through window service there.
Mr Solli told P&Z members that when considering that the site lies within the town’s environmentally sensitive Aquifer Protection District (APD), redevelopment plans would specify suitable stormwater control at a paved property, rather than no such control at the currently unpaved land.
Town Planning Director George Benson noted that although B-2 zoning allows gas stations as a permitted land use, because 32 Berkshire Road is in the APD, no gas stations are allowed.
During the public comment section of the public hearing, resident Dan Holmes said the applicant would have an opportunity to correctly develop the site in terms of environmental protection. Mr Holmes added that the planned DOT road improvement project could have far more impact on the area than the retail project, adding that he wants state construction projects to be keyed to “good development” in environmental terms.
Before their vote on the two requested changes of zone, P&Z members discussed the matter.
Mr Mitchell said of the project, “I’d like to see some services for people who are working in that industrial area.” Curtis Packaging is located at 44 Berkshire Road, and many industrial firms are located at the nearby Curtis Corporate Park on Turnberry Lane.
P&Z member David Rosen said the site’s proximity to Newtown High School at 12 Berkshire Road could make for a good gathering spot after athletic events at the high school.
However, Mr Swift commented that he is concerned about student safety, when considering that some students would walk from the high school to a retail center amid traffic in the area.
“I think it’s a good change for the area,” Mr Mitchell said of the retail proposal.
Mr Swift said a restaurant unfortunately would generate more traffic at a retail center than would other types of retail uses.
Mr Benson said the redevelopment of 32 Berkshire Road could make the property an environmentally better place than it now is, noting the current lack of stormwater control there, although a stream crosses the property. The site will get a strict environmental protection review due to its presence in the APD, he said.
P&Z members then voted to approve the two changes of zone, with Mr Swift dissenting.
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 there with more direct access to both eastbound and westbound I-84, and improving the geometry of the tightly curved existing Exit 11 interchange, among other improvements.