“We don’t want things that look, quite frankly, like what you see down south or in California.”
That was Southington Planning and Zoning Commission member James Sinclair, explaining what direction the PZC would like to see the town take as some of the hundreds of acres along West Street become developed. But another way of putting it might be: We don’t want to build another Queen Street.
Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with the town’s main commercial strip, along Route 10. But Queen Street has long been highly developed, in a typical way for commercial strips, while West Street – which runs parallel to Queen and is also a state highway, Route 229 — still offers hundreds of acres for development between Interstate 84 and the Bristol line. And recommendations from a subcommittee in 2011 point to a different aesthetic as desirable for West Street: a more “upscale New England” look, with colonial elements such as peaked roofs, cupolas, brick pavers, and hidden utilities.
Traffic is also a major consideration, and a state traffic study of the area may be in the works.
There is much to recommend a softer, more traditional look for West Street, something that planners believe will enhance the town’s prestige, make for a homier atmosphere, and perhaps bolster property values at the same time.
The trade-off is that setting such standards may slow down development wherever they are applied. But town leaders, developers, and business owners say commercial growth is inevitable — although years away in some cases — and it’s more important to get West Street development right than to get it done quickly.
At least one potential developer has already come up against the aesthetic guidelines when it learned, informally, that the contemporary “look” desired by its potential tenant for a medical office building was not welcomed by the commission. In another case, a chain restaurant in the interchange zone chose to comply by including colonial design elements.
Southington’s planners have accepted the idea that design restrictions along West street may slow the pace of development — because some businesses, particularly chains or franchises, want to have a consistent design for their locations — but are willing to accept delays as the cost of imposing guided growth instead of a development free-for-all.
Getting West Street development right is more important than hurrying in new businesses, said Paul Chaplinsky, PZC vice chairman and chair of the West Street subcommittee.
“We’re going to be choosy.”