Smaller Gas Station Proposal For 13 Hawleyville Road Draws Stiff Opposition
A development firm’s proposal to construct a gas station/convenience store at 13 Hawleyville Road (Route 25), which would be smaller than its previously proposed facility, which the Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z) unanimously rejected in November, has drawn strong opposition from the residents who also opposed the earlier version of the project.
Although smaller than the previous version, the current proposal amounts to the same type of land use as the P&Z turned down previously, and thus should be rejected again, the residents in opposition to the project told P&Z members at a December 19 public hearing.
Applicant 13 Hawleyville Road LLC is seeking a special zoning permit for a 3.7-acre site in the Hawleyville Center Design District (HCDD) zone. The property proposed for construction is a vacant lot owned by the applicant that has extensive road frontage on the west side of Hawleyville Road, just south of eastbound Interstate 84’s Exit 9 off-ramp. The site is bordered on the south by Covered Bridge Road.
In rejecting the previous proposal, P&Z members decided that such a facility would create worse traffic problems in an area that now experiences heavy congestion during commuter rush periods. It was unusual for the P&Z to reject such a commercial development proposal.
The version of the project earlier rejected by the P&Z had proposed a 5,293-square-foot convenience store and 16 fuel-filling positions at a gas station. The revised, pending project proposes a 4,083-square-foot convenience store and eight fuel-filling positions. The current proposal for a convenience store is about 30 percent smaller than the initial version.
The fueling area would be covered by a freestanding canopy. In both versions of the project, an access point on Hawleyville Road would allow entering/exiting traffic, while a Covered Bridge Road access point would allow only entering traffic.
Before the P&Z rejected the initial proposal in November, members of the public said that the gas station/convenience store proposed for 13 Hawleyville Road is not needed locally because a similar project is under construction by another developer about 2,000 feet to the north at a 0.7-acre site at 26 Hawleyville Road. The 26 Hawleyville Road site is also in the HCDD zone.
The HCDD zone, which the P&Z created in 1999, is intended to foster creation of a neighborhood business district that includes mixed-use activities, improvements, and the development typical of a village center. The HCDD zone is designed to promote business activities that will serve the surrounding neighborhoods and to a lesser degree, accommodate services compatible with the zone’s proximity to Exit 9 of Interstate 84. HCDD zoning is intended to encourage development with high quality design that respects the environmental conditions and history of the area in seeking to achieve an integrated, cohesive New England village center, according to the P&Z.
At the December 19 public hearing, developer Anthony Lucera of 13 Hawleyville Road LLC submitted to P&Z members a certificate of location from the town Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), which endorses locating a gas station at that address.
Civil engineer Dainius Virbickas of Artel Engineering Group, representing the developer, told P&Z members that the currently proposed building is similar in size to a 4,160-square-foot diner for the site which had gained P&Z approval in 2015. Plans for that diner later fell through, and the diner was not built.
The site would hold two underground 20,000-gallon fuel storage tanks, he said. Gasoline and diesel would be sold. Parking spaces would be located at several places on the site. Two fire hydrants would be positioned at the property. The site would be served by a public water supply and municipal sanitary sewers.
Architect Maura Juan of Seventy2 Architects, representing the developer, displayed renderings of the building proposed for the property. The structure would have a barn-like appearance. The building would be located at the northern end of the site. The design for the eastern side of the structure, which faces Hawleyville Road, has been modified to make it appear more like a building’s facade than did the design for the previously proposed larger building.
Traffic engineer Michael Galante of Frederick P. Clark Associates, representing the applicant, described in detail the dynamics of traffic flow in the area near the development site and how traffic flow would change after the proposed project is in operation.
P&Z member Jim Swift, however, questioned some of the traffic statistics provided by Mr Galante.
Also, P&Z Chairman Don Mitchell asked for clarification regarding some of the traffic statistics. “I think it’s unfair to compare this [development] proposal with [traffic statistics for] a previously approved diner,” he said. “I’m especially concerned about [traffic] safety,” he said.
P&Z member Corinne Cox asked what evacuation route would be used for residents in that area in the event that Covered Bridge Road is impassable. Covered Bridge Road is the sole connecting road to Hawleyville Road for people at Hillcrest Drive, Grace Family Church, and the Covered Bridge Apartments rental apartment complex, which is now under construction.
Mr Swift said he is concerned about traffic flow that would be generated within the area lying between I-84 and the development site by the motorists who would get off I-84 to buy gasoline and then return to I-84.
When considering the extent of development that has occurred and will occur in that area, town officials have expressed concerns about the public safety issue posed by lack of a traffic signal at the intersection of Hawleyville Road and Covered Bridge Road.
Although there will be 210 apartments at Covered Bridge Apartments when the project is completed, such growth is not sufficient to warrant state approval of a traffic signal for that intersection. Mr Galante said that a traffic signal might be installed at the intersection in the future if a large currently undeveloped tract lying to the east of the intersection is eventually developed with commercial/industrial uses.
Regarding the proposed entrance-only driveway, which would link Covered Bridge Road to the gas station, P&Z member Dennis Bloom said that a commercial accessway should not extend from what is a residential road.
Ms Cox pointed out that the apartment complex will generate added school bus traffic in the area.
Paul Scalzo, a real estate agent for the developer, said that the previous plan to build a diner at the site changed because consumer behavior patterns have changed during the past several years. Consumers today want to buy food/beverage items “fast” at a convenience store, rather than going to a diner, which is more time-consuming, he explained.
“Consumers have changed; they want something fast,” he said.
During the public comment section of the public hearing, Janet McKeown of Hillcrest Drive told P&Z members that the size of the proposed gas station is not the issue, but that the project would amount to the second new gas station to be built in Hawleyville, in reference to the NEMCO project at 26 Hawleyville Road.
“It’s (13 Hawleyville Road) a second gas station for Hawleyville,” she stressed. Ms McKeown and others living in the area have told P&Z members that the area does not need two new gas stations.
Ms McKeown asked P&Z members why the underground fuel tanks in the currently proposed gas station with eight fueling positions have the same capacity as the previous version of the station, which had 16 fueling positions. She suggested that if the development firm receives a P&Z approval for the project, it would later seek to expand the gas station’s configuration from eight to 16 fueling positions.
Ms McKeown predicted that the presence of a gas station at the site will generate additional traffic in the area, resulting in motor vehicle accidents. “It’s a dangerous, dangerous place,” she said, in reference to the intersection of Hawleyville Road and Covered Bridge Road. “ I don’t understand why this [application] is under consideration,” she said.
Pat Napolitano of Whippoorwill Hill Road said of the development proposal, “It’s inappropriate, It doesn’t fit into the Hawleyville Center Design District.” The proposal poses traffic issues, he added.
Mr Napolitano, who said he has lived in the Hawleyville area for more than 30 years, told P&Z members he has seen an increase in traffic in that area to “dangerous levels.” Also, Mr Napolitano questioned some of the traffic statistics listed in the developer’s traffic report for the project.
Mr Napolitano asked P&Z members whom they consider to be more important — the developer or the hundreds of residents whom Mr Napolitano said would suffer the consequences of a gas station’s presence.
Vern Audet of Hillcrest Drive said the developer’s current proposal shows that there would be space to eventually add another eight fueling positions for a total of 16 positions. Mr Audet added that a serious motor vehicle accident could result in the closure of Covered Bridge Road to traffic.
Of the anticipated increased traffic flow, Mr Audet said, “Drivers don’t have patience; accidents will happen.”
Chris Jerace of Pond Brook Road pointed out that if there is a traffic backup on eastbound I-84 in Hawleyville, nearby local roads become very congested with motorists getting off I-84 to seek alternate routes.
“I am opposed to this [application]... I think it’s ludicrous that we need two gas stations in Hawleyville,” he said. The development proposal does not fit the terms of HCDD zoning, he said.
Charles Zukowski of Cornfield Ridge Road suggested that the development proposal include sidewalks. He urged that P&Z members become involved in long-range planning in terms of the local road network.
Mr Mitchell responded that about 20 years ago, the regional planning agency, which was then known as the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials (HVCEO), had a long-range traffic study produced that covered the Exit 9 area and Hawleyville, covering several decades of projected traffic flow.
Mr Lucera, the developer, asked that the public hearing on the development application resume at an upcoming P&Z session.
Mr Mitchell concurred, saying that he wants more time to review the traffic study. P&Z members agreed to resume the public hearing on January 16. That P&Z session will be held at the Newtown Senior Center at 8 Simpson Street.