Shopping and apartments may breathe life into Victoria Drive area

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Robert Dunbar, left, plans to build a shopping center on the former Vitramon property on Main Street. First Selectman Ken Kellogg, right, supports the economic development the project could bring.

Robert Dunbar shared this computer rendering of how his shopping center, Victoria Place, would look on Main Street.

Since the old Vishay-Vitramon buildings were demolished at 10 and 36 Main Street a few years ago, the vacant property has given way to weeds.

Robert Dunbar, 47, of Monroe, plans to improve the appearance of the gateway from Route 25 by building The Shoppes at Victoria Place.

“I have a couple large retailers I’m working with, but we all signed nondisclosures, so I can’t say who,” Dunbar said. “It will have a maximum of two restaurants, a coffee shop and shopping.”

Dunbar is working with architect Ray Sullivan to build a retail development with six buildings totaling 115,000 square feet.

The village style shopping center would have cobblestone walkways, wood benches, old time street lamps, potted plants and access to the Rail Trail behind the property. The asphalt of the parking lot would be broken up with landscaping and plantings.

“We didn’t want a strip mall,” Dunbar said. “We wanted a more inviting place, where people can walk in between.”

Dunbar said First Selectman Ken Kellogg and Town Planner Richard Schultz are doing positive things to promote development and grow the grand list, making Monroe an attractive place to invest in.

“I’m putting it in the town I live in,” Dunbar said of the shopping center. “I’m trying to leave a legacy for my family.”

Dunbar grew up in Trumbull and remembers running through the Vitramon building as a child when the business was owned by a family friend. He and his wife live in Monroe with their three children.

“I support this project,” Kellogg said. “I think it’s all fully allowed by our regulations.”

Schultz said the 15-acre-property at 10 and 36 Main St. is in a B-2 zone, which permits all the uses Dunbar is looking for.

Each retailer at Victoria Place would have a different facade. Dunbar said the shopping center will have elements of Avon Village and Quarry Walk in Oxford.

“Rob has been investigating shopping centers in the state,” said Schultz.

In addition to Quarry Walk and Avon Village, which is under construction, Dunbar visited Milford Market Place and Chappaqua Crossing in New York.

The Main Street property is 30 feet below street level. As part of the development, Dunbar wants to bring in 200 yards of fill to raise the property so the shopping center’s buildings will be at the eye level of drivers on Route 25.

Wetlands and zoning approvals are needed to make The Shoppes at Victoria Place a reality. Dunbar said he expects to file an application with the Planning & Zoning Commission by this fall.

Apartments on the border

Mitchell DeEsso wants to build a mixed-use retail development with up to 50 apartments on the Trumbull-Monroe border. Contributed

Dunbar said he is working closely with Mitchell DeEsso, who is planning to build a mixed-use retail development with up to 50 apartments on a neighboring property on the Monroe-Trumbull town line.

Dunbar said the two men would share a driveway and access to parking to avoid adding curb cuts to the busy traffic along Main Street.

Schultz said DeEsso’s property is in a B-1 zone, so a Planning & Zoning Commission approval of a text amendment allowing a mixed use development in the specific area is needed.

DeEsso said there is a huge demand for apartments that young people returning from college could rent to stay in their hometowns and for older residents looking to downsize.

“We’re still in the conceptual stage, but we’re looking to do 40 to 50 apartments, 20,000 square feet of retail and 10,000 square feet of office space between the two towns,” DeEsso said.

DeEsso is the owner of DSO Plumbing & Mechanical Contracting at 7182 Main St. in Trumbull. The development would be built behind his office building with half of it in Trumbull and the other half in Monroe.

“I’ve built homes, but never a development of this size,” DeEsso said. “But I’m going to get it done.”

Kellogg said there are not a lot of housing opportunities in Monroe for single professionals like teachers and police officers. He said he believes DeEsso’s development would have traditional apartments that are primarily one bedroom.

“We have to be cognizant of how any large residential development will affect our school system,” Kellogg said. “From the preliminary information, there should be no large impact.”

However, Kellogg said DeEsso must submit a full application to the Planning & Zoning Commission with all of the details.

The first selectman said having a mixed use a component to town zoning can help to grow the grand list in a responsible way.

“It’s clear that mixed use development is a viable way to make the numbers work,” Kellogg said. “Many communities have proceeded with mixed use developments and we need to look at it. At first blush, it looks like a good project that we should be considering.”

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