SOUTHINGTON — When a developer came before the Planning and Zoning Commission with a proposal for a contemporary medical office building on West Street, commission members pushed back with their requirements that the building conform to an upscale New England aesthetic.
Town planners are attempting to steer West Street development along design, traffic, and zoning guidelines established in a study and recommendations from 2011. With hundreds of acres of undeveloped land along West Street from Interstate 84 to the Bristol line, town leaders, developers, and business owners say commercial growth is inevitable, but years away in some cases.
Paul Chaplinsky, commission vice chairman and chair of the West Street subcommittee, said getting West Street development right is more important than hurrying in new businesses.
“If it takes a long time to get there, we’re not in any rush to develop, that I can tell you,” he said. “If we have to turn some down because they just can’t make it work by adhering to the guidelines and principles and our strategy, then we might have to do that. We really want to attract the right business with the right look and feel … We’re going to be choosy.”
Borghesi Builders of Torrington had an informal discussion with planning commission members last month. Their plans for a contemporary medical office building with an aesthetic driven in part by potential tenants Trinity Health, didn’t receive a warm welcome by the commission.
Town Planner Rob Philips said the company is now looking at other locations with fewer design requirements.
The 2011 West Street study, written by consultants Milone & MacBroom, identified 700 acres of undeveloped land in the corridor. Some of the land, such as the area across from Executive Boulevard near the highway, has been developed over the past six years, but much is still open land.
Some residential land along West Street could also end up commercial.
Frank Fragola, owner of FK Bearings and Fragola Performance Systems on West Queen Street, has bought more than a dozen properties on or near West Street since September 2015. The properties he purchased, at a total cost of more than $4.5 million, are near the corner of West and West Queen streets.
Last month, Fragola bought two houses on West Street across from Highland Golf Range for $350,000. The golf range was listed for sale this summer at $2.2 million.
Fragola hasn’t returned calls for comment about his development plans.
Milone & MacBroom’s recommendations included design criteria and efforts to manage current and future traffic along the state road.
Recommendations from the West Street subcommittee from 2011 included examples from Clinton Crossing and other campus-style retail developments. Desired aesthetics were described as upscale New England and colonial with divided light windows, peaked roofs, cupolas, brick pavers, and hidden utilities.
James Sinclair, a Planning and Zoning Commission member, said the town has been mostly successful enforcing this aesthetic along West Street. Even in the interchange zone around the highway, which includes big-box stores and large offices buildings, the town was able to guide the building of Chip’s Family Restaurant to include colonial design elements. Commission members also pushed for softer architecture for the hotel under construction across the street.
“We’ve been trying to push that continuity in town,” Sinclair said. “We don’t want things that look, quite frankly, like what you see down south or in California.”
That often involves compromise with businesses, particularly chains or franchises that want consistent designs across locations.
Chaplinsky and commission member Robert Hammersley are working on a resolution for the commission and the Town Council that will help draw state Department of Transportation attention to West Street improvements. Pinch points of the road would benefit from better alignment of side roads and turning lanes, Chaplinsky said.
“We’ve heard loud and clear that traffic is an issue,” he said. “Anything that goes in West Street, one of the most important things we’re going to consider is traffic management.”
Chaplinsky said he’ll work with state and local elected officials to get a state study of West Street.
Another way to alleviate traffic is access roads within development that keep traffic off West Street. The commission has also been requesting access roads for Queen Street developments for the same reason.
“We’re going to require applicants to come to us with a plan for access roads on their property,” he said.
Chaplinsky is also hoping for beautification efforts in the form of a median with trees on portions of the road. He was inspired by a street in Glastonbury.
“We don’t want it to be a wide open highway,” Chaplinsky said. “We want it to be a traditional colonial view that has soft touches to it as well as manages traffic.”