75 Church Hill Road Taking Shape
During the past year, the many motorists who travel daily on Church Hill Road (US Route 6) near Exit 10 of Interstate 84 have watched with interest as workers rechannelized the course of Tom Brook and then reshaped the terrain at 75 Church Hill Road to create a suitable site for retail redevelopment in an area which had become an eyesore.
The prominent 3.1-acre site, which lies across Church Hill Road from Blue Colony Diner and Newtown Mobil, had stood dormant for decades, its redevelopment potential having been stunted by the presence of soil contamination originating from a past dry cleaning business there.
Following a sturdy steel framework having recently been erected and wooden panels being placed atop roof trusses, a group of people connected with the retail project, which has the working name of 75 Church Hill Road, gathered on Monday, July 30, to announce that the first tenancy contract has been signed with Starbucks Coffee for a commercial space on the western end of the 12,170-square-foot structure.
Notably, Starbucks will be the first local eatery to have drive-through window service since the Town of Newtown's original zoning regulations took effect in 1958. Although the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) has allowed drive-through window service at banks and pharmacies, it has not allowed that feature at eateries. In the past, P&Z members cited traffic congestion and littering problems as reasons not to allow drive-throughs at eateries.
The only eatery in town with drive-through service is Botsford Drive-In at 282 South Main Street, where that feature was in place before zoning took effect 60 years ago.
Charlie Latham, vice president of business development for Northeast Investment Realty in Shelton, said the firm is working on lining up other tenants for the 75 Church Hill Road property. When the project was reviewed by the P&Z in 2016, the applicant explained that the building would hold five tenant spaces.
The types of uses being sought for the building include a small specialty grocery store, a luncheon restaurant, and a boutique-style fitness facility, Mr Latham said. The building's design would allow individual spaces from ranging from 1,200 to 5,000 square feet to be configured for a given tenant, he said.
"This [building] has high visibility... It's the perfect location off the highway... It has great accessibility," Mr Latham said. The structure is quite noticeable in that the length of the building is positioned on a diagonal relative to Church Hill Road, rather than being parallel or perpendicular to the road, as are most structures.
The presence of Blue Colony Diner attracts many I-84 travelers to Church Hill Road, Mr Latham noted. The main driveway for 75 Church Hill Road will be controlled by the traffic signals that are positioned at the intersection of Church Hill Road and eastbound I-84's Exit 10 ramps. The two driveways for Blue Colony Diner at 66 Church Hill are not controlled by traffic signals.
Goodbye To Blight
Mr Latham said the building at 75 Church Hill Road will be attractive.
"It will be a well-finished structure," with traditional New England design features, he said. The site will have 74 parking spaces.
First Selectman Dan Rosenthal said he is glad that a site that had been vacant for years will be put back into use and become productive. Also, the development firm, which is a local firm, is investing in its community, he said. The siting of the retail center will work well with the roadway changes planned for the area, he said.
Town Planning Director George Benson said that the site had become an eyesore over the years. He termed the planned retail building "a great use of an important piece of property in town." When the project is completed, the logic of the site's layout will become apparent, he said. The project's rear driveway, which will carry two-way traffic, will connect to a new as-yet unbuilt section of Edmond Road.
"It will improve the appearance of a blighted area in town," said Economic Development Commission Chairman Wes Thompson. There will be high quality landscaping done at the site before the project is completed, thus generally beautifying the area, Mr Thompson said.
Christal Preszler, the town's deputy director of economic and commercial development, said, "The town welcomes the investment being made at 75 Church Hill Road and the businesses that will be locating there. The location of the development is visible from the Exit 10 area of I-84 in Newtown and will hopefully draw people into town that might otherwise drive past, allowing them to discover the many things that Newtown has to offer."
Simultaneous with the 75 Church Hill Road construction project, the state Department of Transportation (DOT) is changing the traffic flow in that area. The DOT project involves shifting the southern end of Edmond Road to the west, so that Edmond Road becomes part of a conventional signalized four-way intersection with Church Hill Road and Commerce Road. The roadway realignment project, which has been in the planning stages since 1996, is intended to improve traffic flow in the section of town that has the highest motor vehicle accident rate.
Both the roadway realignment project and retail complex are scheduled to be complete by December.
In October 2016, P&Z members approved a special permit for the retail project. Applicant Sunrise Church Hill Road, LLC, received the approval under the terms of the Exit 10 Commercial Design District (X10-CDD) overlay zone, which the P&Z created for that area at the developer's request. The site has underlying M-5 (Industrial) and B-2 (General Business) zoning. Using the provisions of CDD zoning allows a project to be built that would not be permitted under the terms of the M-5 and B-2 zoning regulations. The X10-CDD zoning specifically allows drive-through window service for certain eateries.
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