MONROE, CT — The Planning and Zoning Commission includes properties of one-acre-or-more along commercial thoroughfares in the Main Street Design District, allowing the owners more flexibility of uses. But a developer wants the town to make an exception to allow a Starbucks coffee shop on less-than-an-acre at 255 Monroe Turnpike.
The property is approximately 0.85 acres and Attorney Kevin J. Curseaden, Esq., is proposing a text amendment to the regulation to accommodate his client, 255 Monroe Turnpike LLC, because the property is an odd shape and undersized — so long as it meets all of the other requirements of an MDD.
During a hearing at Monroe Town Hall on three applications needed to make construction of a Starbucks possible Thursday night, Vice Chairman Bruno Maini expressed his concerns over granting such a change.
“When we put these regulations in it was new to the town,” Maini said. “Now we have people coming in and making adjustments to the regulations. To me, it’s not an acre. You don’t have an acre. We put in an acre for specific reasons. You don’t have it. You just don’t. It’s a year-and-a-half old and you’re already proposing an adjustment. I think one acre is very fair.”
“I’m just not comfortable today,” he added. “It was a big regulation. It changed our town. A lot of people came in and want to build in this town and I’m all for it. I’m just not ready for a change.”
However, there is also a desire to develop the property at the corner of Spring Hill Road, which currently has a long abandoned white house on it and overgrown vegetation.
“I don’t want to miss out on an opportunity to bring in a great national brand like Starbucks,” said Commissioner Robert Westlund. “To me, it’s a small tweak. A blight there is not doing anyone a service.”
Curseaden said his client is working with owners of another commercial property at 375 Spring Hill Road — where a building is under construction for Chipotle, Jersey Mike’s and Wayback Burgers — to see if they will quit claim some of their property to bring 255 Monroe Turnpike closer to an acre.
Commissioner Leon Ambrosey questioned whether the town’s closing of a dead-end portion of Spring Hill Road was factored into the parcel’s 0.85 acre size and Curseaden said it was, because property owners along the discontinued road take ownership from their property lines to the middle of the road.
Ambrosey said he thought ownership of the abandoned road went to the town, but the attorney cited a state statute that supported his point.
In addition to the petition for a regulation amendment to amend the MDD minimum lot size, the applicant is petitioning to rezone the property from an LOR (limited office retail) to Special Development District No. 3, and seeking approval of a special exception permit for the site plan.
The site plan includes construction of a 2,527-square-foot Starbucks building with a drive-thru, patio seating and 30 parking spaces. Traffic into the site would be one-way. An entrance from Monroe Turnpike (Route 111) would be right turn only to enter and exit and traffic could turn in both directions from an entrance on Spring Hill Road.
The applications are all being reviewed in one hearing, which was left open Thursday. Curseaden said he will provide more details at the next meeting.
The plan is also before the Monroe Architectural Review Board, which is advisory. Curseaden said that ARB application was left open for pending questions. The applicant is also working on obtaining easements from Aquarion Water Co. and other utilities.
An undersized parcel
Curseaden said they could propose something that allows a smaller lot size that meets the other guidelines to be an MDD, adding such exceptions could be made on a limited basis, with future applications decided by the commission on a case-by-case basis.
“We don’t want spot zoning, but I don’t think this change would affect too many lots,” Westlund said.
“I can tell you a bunch of lots this would affect,” Ambrosey said. “There’s a ton on Main Street. I know that for a fact. When you start changing it, watch what you change.”
“They would still have to request it from the commission,” Secretary Ryan Condon said.
“Are we going to pick one we’re going to approve and one we’re not going to approve?” Ambrosey asked, adding the developer could purchase more land and the owner’s issue of having an undersized lot is not the commission’s concern. He said allowing an MDD on less-than-an-acre would affect the entire town.
Nicole Lupo, a commission alternate, said she understands why the commission limited MDDs to one acre, but added she is also struggling with the fact some property owners will have an inability to expand their property. “I’m also concerned about spot zoning,” she said.
The applicant noted how the proposal is consistent with the town’s strategic plan of diversifying its tax base.
The plan says: “If the change in zone does not occur, the parcel will most likely continue to sit vacant with minimal tax value for the foreseeable future. If the change in zone is allowed, the vacant parcel will be developed with a Starbucks, dramatically increasing the tax value and enhancing services on Monroe Turnpike.”
Landscaping, traffic …
Mark Grocki, the senior engineer for the application, said the drive-thru would have a double lane configuration with a menu board, before traffic goes down to a single lane on the way to the window. The design allows for a queueing of 15 vehicles. Though Starbucks believes this is sufficient, the property allows for five more vehicles to queue.
A dumpster at the far end of the site would be enclosed and the commercial property would have a six-foot-high white vinyl screening fence as a buffer for neighbors to the north. The site has a drainage plan and a septic system is proposed on the south end of the site, which would be served by public water.
There is also an erosion and sediment control plan for the site.
Charlie Baker, a senior traffic engineer with VHB Inc., did studies of traffic at the intersections of Route 111 and Spring Hill Road and of Route 111 and Purdy Hill Road. Baker said he factored in anticipated traffic from the Chipotle building and included a one percent growth rate in traffic counts.
He said there would be a “slight degradation” at the Purdy Hill Road intersection, but his firm concluded there would be no significant impact on traffic from a Starbucks. Baker said their traffic report will be reviewed by the Connecticut Department of Transportation.
Dominic Smeraglino III, a commission alternate, asked about the amount of room between a row of parking spaces and the driveway behind it on the way to the drive-thru. Grocki said there would be a 17-foot-wide drive aisle.
Smeraglino also suggested planting trees behind the fence by the residential neighbors. Grocki said some could be planted, though the area is tight.
Condon said plantings at the north side would be better for neighbors than looking out onto a fence.
The Starbucks would be open from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. Westlund asked if the property would be lit for 24 hours. Grocki said he does not think the lighting would be turned completely off at closing, but added all lighting is cut off and Dark Sky compliant.
Westlund noted how busy the Starbucks drive-thru on White Plains Road in Trumbull gets, and asked whether Route 111 has similar volumes of traffic, expressing concern over vehicles backing up onto 111.
Baker said the DOT requires a minimum queueing of 14 vehicles for drive-thrus and at 15 their plan exceeds that with room for five more vehicles to wait on the site.
“We think the queueing is adequate and appropriately designed,” Baker said.
“That may be true,” Westlund said. “The Starbucks I’m referring to doesn’t have that wrap around.”
Ambrosey expressed concerns over queueing blocking lanes, so cars can’t pass the drive-thru in the parking lot, citing past problems at McDonalds when it started a double drive-thru.
The plan also includes a sidewalk along Monroe Turnpike.
During public comments Derrick Talbot, of Windgate Circle, represented his father, who lives at 257 Spring Hill Road, which is on the discontinued portion of Spring Hill Road.
He said there is a speeding problem on Spring Hill Road with drivers going 45-50 mph on the 25 mph street and predicted an increase in car accidents with a Starbucks built there. Talbot also does not like the dumpster being placed along the border of northern neighbors.
“The dumpster here is a slap in the face to the two families, even screened,” he said. “I didn’t hear one word about picking up trash and keeping the site clean.”
Talbot envisions a south bound lane of Route 111 being jammed with backed up traffic as cars wait to turn right into the Starbucks parking lot.
Grocki said traffic should not back up onto Route 111 as traffic turns right into Starbucks.
“I see a lot of problems with what’s being proposed here,” he said. “There’s no room to landscape and screen.”
Karen and Bernard Mazako have lived in their house on Spring Hill Road for over 40 years. Karen said what concerns she and her husband is the development plan of Monroe is apparently more focused on increasing the tax base, rather than on what is best for the community.
“I ask, ‘how many fast food restaurants does this town need?'” she said, before listing all of the food establishments on the stretch of Route 111.
“The addition of another fast food restaurant on our road hurts our property values, which is a concern to us after paying taxes for over 40 years,” Karen said. “It will detract, rather than attract new residents and businesses in Monroe.”
David Dausilio, a real estate developer from Stratford, disagreed with how the applicant is going about seeking an approval. “This is a classic appeal for the Zoning Board of Appeals,” he said. “Several hardships can go before the ZBA, but changing the regulations is wrong.”
Bernard Mazako complained about speeding and asked about access to residential properties on the closed portion of Spring Hill Road.
Attorney Curseaden said the developer has a plan to construct a driveway leading to the houses on the closed portion of the street and has agreed to plow and maintain it, because that is no long a responsibility of the town. One of the houses is in foreclosure and he has not yet been able to contact the attorney, he added.
Chairman Michael O’Reilly suggested the property owner discuss landscaping and screening during talks about access to the properties on the closed road.
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