MERIDEN — Officials concerned about the traffic impact of a Taco Bell proposed for an already congested section of West Main Street are waiting for a traffic study before they move forward with the application.
City Planner Bob Seale said the project, which seeks to convert the former Ryder’s on Main cafe, remains in limbo, as city officials are concerned the section of West Main Street is unable to handle any significant increase in traffic.
“We’re just waiting on getting a traffic report so we can have any idea if this is even approvable,” Seale said. “It’s really tentative right now depending on the traffic study.”
The business is seeking a special exception from the Zoning Board of Appeals for the property, at 467 W. Main St. The plan will also need approval from the city’s Planning Commission. Both boards have requested a traffic study.
A traffic count was conducted in the area in November but has not been presented to the city, according to Howard Weissberg, the associate city engineer. The area is challenging due to a hill and sharp turn, which limit sight lines for drivers coming in and out of the business.
Part of the concern is that the business, which contains a drive-thru window, would bring more traffic to the area than the former bar.
“Fast food generates different types of traffic than Ryder’s did as a bar, both in terms of traffic volume and time of day,” Weissberg said. “With the traffic study we want to make sure the site can safely handle traffic. Drive-thrus typically have more traffic.”
Another challenge is the proximity to several city schools, which typically increases traffic between 3 and 5 p.m.
Seale said the city may need to look into a more creative solution to remedy traffic concerns, such as restricting street parking, creating an additional turn lane, or re-striping the area.
One solution may be for Taco Bell to acquire the abutting properties owned by Hunter’s Ambulance and create a larger lot with a better-located entrance.
“If all those parcels were combined and utilized as one, it would be an excellent opportunity because they could better locate a driveway entrance for a combined site plan, but, stand alone, it’s going to be difficult and we’re just waiting to see what the traffic engineering comes up with,” Seale said.
The Planning Commission was briefed on the status of Taco Bell last week and voted to postpone a decision. Seale said the commission will have until March to make a ruling on the application and hoped the study would be completed by February to allow the business time to make revisions to the plan if deemed necessary by the board.
Planning Commission Chairman Enrico Buccilli said the traffic study is critical.
“We don’t want to create a situation that’s unsafe, so we have to move cautiously,” Buccilli said. “We’re in favor of commercial development because it helps us from a tax standpoint, but safety has to be the number one concern.”