MERIDEN — Several years in the works, local engineer Richard Fontaine may finally have a plan that will allow for the construction of a cafe on East Main Street next to a building that already houses a Dunkin’ Donuts.
Fontaine acquired the property at 903 E. Main St. in 2007 from a family friend, agreeing to give the elderly man, Arthur Pfeiffer, a permanent home in return. The piece of land is a narrow one, only .44 acres, next to the Dunkin’ Donuts building that also includes a Verizon Wireless store and Jake’s Wayback Burgers. On its opposite side is a Shell gas station.
“It’s got its own difficulties on its own with the property being so narrow,” Fontaine said in a phone interview Tuesday.
Back in 2007, Fontaine had gained approval to put a Dunkin’ Donuts on the property, striking a deal with local franchisee Michael Batista. The building would have been only a drive-thru operation, but it eventually fell through and the popular donut shop was constructed on the piece of land next door.
Fontaine, a project engineer for Wethersfield-based engineering firm Close, Jensen and Miller, said he has worked on numerous development projects in the past including Dunkin’ Donuts shops. This, however, is one of the few projects he has undertaken on his own.
Fontaine said he is working with a client, but “cannot disclose who is interested.” He has also not disclosed the information to city staff or local boards and commissions Fontaine has appeared before seeking approvals. Plans of for the site include a narrow building with a star feature on it.
In recent months, Fontaine has come forward and gained approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals to put a drive-thru facility on the site and from the Inland Wetlands and Watercourse Commission. He has hit a snag with the Planning Commission because of a plan in the rear of the site, which is not level with the surrounding property.
Hart Avenue runs to the south of Fontaine’s property, turning into Edson Avenue, which runs through the parcel. Edson, however, is only a paper street, not officially a street used by motorists. Fontaine had asked the city to abandon the street, but it was denied because of concerns from neighbors. Abandoning the street would have allowed him to fill the south end of the site and grade it without special approvals.
Fontaine proposed the filling method anyway at a recent Planning Commission meeting. Despite support from city staff, it was denied by a 3-1 vote.
“We would be setting a precedent by allowing somebody to fill on a city-owned street,” said Ross Gulino, a member of the commission.
Fontaine wrote a letter to the City Council to propose grading the on city property, but later withdrew the letter.
Gulino said he would prefer a retaining wall to be built at the rear of the site, which Fontaine said he will move forward with and propose at the next Planning Commission meeting, Aug. 14.
City Planner Dominick Caruso had his own concerns about a retraining wall. The entire site, Caruso said, is a complicated one to develop, but had some confidence.
“It’s a tough piece of property,” Caruso said. “It’s been going on for a couple years...We approved Dunkin’ Donuts going on that site some years ago, but it wasn’t as extensive as what he’s proposing. I’ll put it this way, it can be developed. It will just take the right plan.”
Fontaine said he hoped his plan works and is accepted by the commission so that development of the site can start.
“I feel confident; Planning should pass it,” he said. “There’s no reason why they shouldn’t. I did all of the appropriate due diligence.”