MONROE, CT — A developer planning to build a Starbucks coffee shop at 255 Monroe Turnpike made tweaks to improve traffic flow in the parking lot and added a buffer of trees for residential neighbors to the northwest of the property.
At the close of the hearing Thursday, it was enough for the Planning and Zoning Commission to direct Planning and Zoning Administrator Rick Schultz to draft a resolution of approval for members to vote on at their next meeting.
“I think it’s a good application,” said Chairman Michael O’Reilly, who asked for a consensus vote on the project.
Secretary Ryan Condon, Commissioner Robert Westlund and Dominic Smeraglino, a seated alternate, agreed to move forward with a resolution.
Commissioner Leon Ambrosey, the lone dissenter, said, “I’m a no.”
During the hearing, Ambrosey expressed concerns over the queuing of vehicles at the drive-thru backing up onto Spring Hill Road, posing problems for traffic safety.
He also disagreed with the applicant’s attorney, Kevin J. Curseaden’s contention that the zone line extends to the middle of Route 111 (Monroe Turnpike) in front of the property, making the lot an acre.
Because of this, the applicant, 255 Monroe Turnpike LLC, withdrew its petition for a regulation amendment on minimum lot size regulations for the Main Street Design District. The regulation currently requires lots to be a minimum of one acre.
Ambrosey also questioned why a portion of the proposed sidewalk on the side of a discontinued portion of Spring Hill Road encroaches upon the former street.
He said he researched the Connecticut General Statutes and learned when a road closes the public easement discontinues, but a private easement remains. Ambrosey said it does not say property owners living along the abandoned street acquire the property to the center of the road.
Ambrosey questioned how the developer could build on an easement. “The developer can’t take half the road,” he said. “I don’t think they have a right to build on it.”
Curseaden disagreed, saying the developer has simple ownership to the center of the discontinued road.
Vin Marino, the town’s land use attorney, said part of the sidewalk being on the discontinued road was fine, so long as it does not impede the other property owners’ access to their parcels.
Curseaden said the Tartaglias’, who have an interest in the LLC, agreed to build a driveway for the neighbors and to plow snow off it in the winter. The 10-foot-wide asphalt lane would lead to a 20-foot-wide lane on the developer’s property, connecting residential traffic with Spring Hill Road.
The Starbucks would be a one-story 2,527-square-foot building with a drive-thru, patio seating and 30 parking spaces at the corner of Monroe Turnpike and Spring Hill Road.
During the hearing the architect, Rich Root, showed computer renderings of the building and site and said the Architectural Review Board thought gray wood on the facade was too dark.
In response, the developer made it white, so the ARB wrote a recommendation letter. Then Starbucks discontinued the color, so they substituted it with a light gray that is “very similar” to what the ARB approved.
The ARB is an advisory board, so the Planning and Zoning Commission does not have to agree with its suggestions.
“I think we’re going to lose out on franchise opportunities if we’re overly restrictive on building design,” Westlund said.
The applicant said they worked with Starbucks on what the corporation would agree to, while staying consistent with its branding.
Ambrosey said other corporations have cooperated with the town in the past. For instance, the McDonald’s on Route 111 does not have a large golden arches sign.
Mark Grocki, the engineer for the applicant, noted how plans called for a six-foot-high white vinyl fence to screen the property from residential neighbors to the northwest.
In response to commission concerns over the buffer, the plan was revised to add a row of American Pillar arborvitae, thin evergreen trees along the fence, for a more attractive buffer.
Grocki said light posts were moved from the border to the interior of the property.
Some commissioners were concerned over whether there was enough room between a row of parking spaces facing Spring Hill Road and a drive-thru lane behind it.
Grocki said the diagonal parking spaces were at 60 degree angles, so they changed it to 45 degree angles, allowing more room behind the parking spaces, while making it easier for vehicles to turn and get out when the drive-thru lane is busy.
The drive aisle was widened from 17 to 22 feet and pavement striping was added, so drivers would see pavement markings for the drive-thru lane as soon they enter the site from Spring Hill Road, according to Grocki.
He said a 50-foot trailer is the largest delivery vehicle the site could accommodate, so deliveries should not be an issue.
The police chief and the fire marshal wanted more room for emergency vehicles when bypassing the drive-thru window in back of the building.
Grocki said the bypass lane is 10-feet-wide, but they lowered the height of two concrete islands alongside it from six inches to four, giving emergency vehicles an extra two feet if needed.
Vito Catale said he was a former tenant at Clock Tower Square on Main Street for the original Carl Anthony’s pizzeria. The property is owned by the Tartaglia family.
During public comments, Catale praised the Tartaglias for “always doing things right” on their commercial properties at Clock Tower Square and at the shopping center they own with the Stop & Shop on Route 111.
“If they say they will do it, they’ll do it,” he said of the Tartaglia family abiding by agreements with the town. Catale expressed his support for the Starbucks proposal.
Mary Jean Wooley, of Admiral Drive, said, “I’m delighted to see new buildings go up, bringing new businesses to this town,” adding of Starbucks, “I’d love to see that here and that dilapidated house torn town.”
The parcel at 255 Monroe Turnpike currently has an abandoned white house on the property.
“It’s getting ridiculous, the taxes here in Monroe,” Wooley said. “People are leaving. Sometimes the town is too hard in allowing businesses into this community. I just think you guys should welcome it.”
Jeanette Politano, of Great Oak Farm, a town resident since 1997 and an agent with Coldwell Banker, said approving the Starbucks would promote strategic commercial growth and bring in more tax revenue.
She noted how there are times that businesses, like Subway, have locations on both of Monroe’s major commercial thoroughfares of routes 25 and 111. Monroe has a Starbucks on Main Street and Politano said another location is needed on Monroe Turnpike.
Traffic at the drive-thru
The design allows for a queuing of 15 vehicles at the drive-thru. Though Starbucks believes this is sufficient, the property allows for five more vehicles to queue.
Ambrosey said he knows the Starbucks in Trumbull has “big problems” with the line of vehicles backing up onto the road when the drive-thru is busy. “And they have a huge queue, much bigger than yours,” he said.
Root said the team of experts for the application and Starbucks are comfortable with the queuing for the Monroe site.
Ambrosey asked how many cars it would take for the traffic to back up onto Spring Hill Road. It was 20.
Root said the Connecticut Department of Transportation will review the plan.
“The DOT only cares about Route 111,” Ambrosey said. “They’re not going to look at Spring Hill Road. My concern is Spring Hill Road.”
“We do feel this is an adequate design for this facility,” Root said.
Schultz said the fire marshal, police chief and town engineer all expressed concerns over queuing, especially during peak demand. But he said they feel it was addressed.
“There’s always concerns with a modern drive-thru,” Schultz said. “I’m just conveying to you their concerns. There are moments when everybody shows up, but the application complies with the town’s and the state of Connecticut’s upgraded standards. It’s up to you.”
“Queuing back up onto a road, that can be an issue with any drive-thru,” Westlund said. “I’m comfortable with 20 vehicles.”
Westlund also said the proposed driveway for the neighbors is an improvement. “I feel the applicant accommodated this commission’s concerns,” he said.
“Could there be more than 20 cars in the queue? Yes,” said Nicole Lupo, a commission alternate. “But it’s always moving and some may decide to go inside [when it’s busy].”
She said she never sees cars backed up onto Route 25 at the Starbucks across town.
“I like it. I think you did a good job,” Smeraglino said to the applicant. “I think you did good in adjusting the building and it’s better screened for the neighbors.”
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