By Michael Torelli
Cheshire Herald Staff
CHESHIRE – The first step in a process that could finally lead to a long-vacant parcel of land in the north end of town being developed was taken this week when the Planning and Zoning Commission lent a proposed project its approval.
On Monday, Commissioners voted in favor of a subdivision application submitted by Miller Napolitano Wolff LLC and Tri-Star Development LLC to convert 1953 and 2037 Highland Ave. into eight new lots, varying in size from 1.6 to 46.8 acres.
A conceptual design for the developed properties includes a convenience store, restaurant, retail spaces, medical offices, a fitness and health club, residential housing, assisted living and active adult units, a 150-room hotel, open space, and a new public road to be located directly across from the Interstate 691 off-ramp. The road would travel northbound before exiting back onto Route 10 closer to the Southington town line.
The properties in question have been the focus of large commercial development plans dating back to the 1980s. WS Development was the most recent company to propose a development — The Outlets at Cheshire. In 2015, however, WS pulled the project.
As part of the application, commissioners supported an earth removal, filling, or regrading permit and an application to rezone the properties into an interchange special development district, the latter of which offers developers flexibility when building on the lots.
Any developments on the property will be subject to special permit approval, which requires a public hearing before the Commission.
The Monday hearing marked the second meeting on the applications. Representing the two LLCs was Attorney Anthony Fazzone, of the Law Offices of Fazzone, Ryan, and Ricciuti LLC, who presented updates on the proposal after commissioners provided feedback earlier this month.
As part of the application, Fazzone submitted a special development plan, which developers will have to follow if they intend to build on the property. Included in the plan are requirements specific to building design, lighting, signage, and other conditions.
At the Commission’s July 8 meeting, Commissioners expressed concerns about the size of some of the proposed signage, some of which would rise as high as 40 feet and total 400 square feet.
Fazzone related that changes made to the development plan, including how signs located at both the southerly and northern entrances will be only 200 square feet in size and 20 feet in height. A sign along Interstate 691 will remain at 400 square feet in size and 55 feet in height. The I-691 sign will be located at least 200 feet away from Route 10.
“A purpose of the sign of that nature is pretty typical of interstate intersections,” explained Fazzone. “With respect to the commercial aspect of this, it is hoped that these signs would contribute to supporting those business-type uses.”
Also included in the changes to the development plan is the elimination of a 40-foot lighting request. Instead, the LLCs agreed that lighting will not exceed 25 feet in height.
Parking for residential properties has also been increased, with one-bedroom units having 1.5 parking spaces, two-bedroom units having 1.75 spaces, and three-bedroom units having two spaces.
Commissioner Rob Brucato thanked Fazzone for making the concessions specific to signage. Before the commission’s vote, Brucato asked that buildings exceeding 50 feet in height be at least 250 feet away from Route 10.
Fazzone, however, said a 250-foot setback would be difficult.
“Those lots probably are not going to be much more than 250 feet when you look at the subdivision file,” he said.
After speaking with representatives from the two LLCs, Fazzone proposed a 150-foot setback.
Commissioner Sean Strollo also voiced his support for the application. He reflected on WS’s proposal and the work that the Town and PZC put into the project, stating that “the hardest thing” for him was seeing the plan fall through.
“It was a big disappointment, but now, going forward, (and) looking at what we have in front of us, to go to the next step, I think we’re in a better place than we were before,” he said.
Not everyone was supportive of the project, however. Town Councilor Tom Ruocco said there are “probably better uses for the land,” such as light manufacturing.
“We’re told economic development will help to offset the mill rate, and I just don’t see that helping in a development of this size,” he said. “… I think there’s a real potential that the cost of the development could outstrip the revenue, essentially.”