P&Z Reviews Drive-Through Window Rules Proposal
Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z) members at an October 4 public hearing again considered the commission’s proposal to create zoning rules that would provide a regulatory mechanism for allowing eateries at shopping centers to have drive-through window service.
The P&Z has long discussed the issue of allowing drive-through window service at eateries, with divergent opinions surfacing on the wisdom of the matter. A clear majority of members of the public who spoke at August 2 and September 6 public hearings on the topic opposed allowing more drive-through windows at eateries locally.
On October 4, resident Peggy Baiad of Budd Drive urged P&Z members not to create new zoning regulations to allow new drive-throughs.
“Once you allow drive-throughs, you open up that Pandora’s box,” she said. Ms Baiad also asked P&Z members why they created regulations in 2016 that will allow a Starbucks Coffee shop at a 12,170-square-foot retail center now under construction at 75 Church Hill Road to have drive-through window service. She mentioned littering as a consequence of drive-throughs.
The project being developed by Sunrise Church Hill Road LLC is near Exit 10 of Interstate 84.
“Once you open the door, it’s going to be more, and more, and more,” she said of drive-through window service.
Ms Baiad said her family moved to Newtown because Newtown was not like other places. Of the increasing amount of local commercial development, she said, “The trees are gone. It’s building, after building, after building.”
Also, Ms Baiad criticized plans for two local brewpubs, one on Church Hill Road and the other at Fairfield Hills. “We don’t need breweries. If you want that, go elsewhere,” she added.
Plans for a brewpub at 57-B Church Hill Road received P&Z approval in May. That facility has not yet opened. A brewpub proposed for Fairfield Hills is still in the planning stages.
Resident Pat Napolitano of Whippoorwill Hill Road offered the P&Z his views on local development.
Mr Napolitano’s concerns focus on the Hawleyville section of town, an area that is experiencing rapid development, plus much proposed growth, as a result of the town’s 2016 expansion of the Hawleyville sanitary sewer system. That sewer system, which started operation in 2001, was designed and built to foster economic development.
Mr Napolitano said he opposes allowing drive-through window service at any eateries in Hawleyville.
After listing a variety of concerns about the adverse effects of rapid development in Hawleyville, Mr Napolitano recommend that the P&Z enact a moratorium on such growth “until the town can come up with a vision of what should be done moving forward.”
Mr Napolitano’s concerns include a major adverse increase in traffic flow due to rapid growth, the prospect of increased air pollution, and unnecessary commercial development near Exit 9 of I-84, among many other concerns.
P&Z member Benjamin Toby said of the recent public hearing comments about allowing drive-through windows at eateries in shopping centers, “The opposition has been pretty overwhelming.” Of those who spoke on the topic, only one person spoke in favor of the proposal, Mr Toby said.
“I have failed to see the motivation for it,” he said, noting that there is no pending application for an eatery with a drive-through.
“I completely agree with you,” said P&Z member Jim Swift. “I make a motion to withdraw this application” to create zoning rules on drive-through windows, he added.
However, P&Z member Robert Mulholland said that in the past, when the Exit 10 retail center proposal was under P&Z review, some people spoke in favor of allowing a drive-through window there.
“We’re trying to come up with a reasonable proposal,” Mr Mulholland said.
P&Z member Roy Meadows said people have strong feelings about the wisdom of allowing drive-through service, noting that there was public support for allowing a drive-through at the Exit 10 facility.
When a vote on Mr Swift’s motion to withdraw the regulatory application was then taken, Mr Swift was the only P&Z member voting to withdraw, so the motion failed.
P&Z Chairman Don Mitchell asked that Town Planning Director George Benson revise the proposed zoning regulations that would allow drive-through window service at eateries at shopping centers. The P&Z plans to hold another public hearing on the matter at 7:30 pm on Thursday, October 18, at Newtown Municipal Center, 3 Primrose Street.
Mr Benson issued the proposed revisions on October 10. Those rules would largely be based on the regulations that the P&Z enacted for the Exit 10 drive-through in 2016, with some changes.
Drive-throughs would be allowed only at shopping centers, which must be on lots of at least ten acres. P&Z members will be asked whether traffic signals must control vehicle access to and from such a shopping center. Of the three local shopping centers — which are Sand Hill Plaza at 228 South Main Street, Plaza South at 266-276 South Main Street, and Waterfall Plaza at 255 South Main Street — Waterfall Plaza does not have access that is controlled by traffic signals.
Under the revised rules proposal, drive-through lanes would be allowed at the sides or rear of buildings. Drive-throughs would not be allowed for stand-alone structures, such as those structures that stand alone in a shopping center parking lot surrounded by parking spaces. A maximum of two drive-throughs would be allowed at a shopping center. The revised proposal would eliminate a 2,500-square-foot size limit for an eatery that has a drive-through. The P&Z would determine the final signage design for a drive-through.
First Selectman Dan Rosenthal did not attend the October 4 P&Z hearing on drive-throughs.
Mr Rosenthal, who is an ex-officio member of the P&Z, was asked this week for his views on the long-discussed topic.
Mr Rosenthal said, “As a point of full disclosure, I am okay with the drive-through as approved on Church Hill (Road) in close proximity to I-84, Exit 10. I believe the intersection realignment with Edmond Road and Commerce Road will make traffic flow more efficient by managing ingress and egress on Church Hill Road, so the drive-through should not significantly add to congestion.
“That said, I am generally not in favor of expanding drive-through service further into town, as I believe that will add traffic to an already challenged road infrastructure, impacting quality of life, and could also serve as an impediment to future economic development,” Mr Rosenthal added.
Currently, the P&Z allows drive-through windows at banks and pharmacies but not at eateries. The only exceptions to that prohibition are at 75 Church Hill Road, and at Botsford Drive-In at 282 South Main Street, where that eatery’s drive-through window was in operation before town zoning went into effect in 1958, and thus is allowed to continue.
The P&Z has long considered the topic of allowing drive-throughs at eateries. Issues that have arisen in the past include the presence of lines of traffic that form waiting for window service, littering, the noise that such development creates, and presence of exhaust fumes emitted from vehicles idling while in line.
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