CHESHIRE — More details about proposed commercial developments at Stone Bridge Crossing in the north end of Cheshire came into focus this week at a meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission.
The Feb. 27 public hearing gave commissioners and the one member of the public who attended an opportunity to see images of the architectural plans for the easterly side of the project and hear discussion of its likely impacts on the Ten Mile River watershed, traffic patterns along Route 10, and Cheshire’s economy more broadly. The PZC is evaluating a series of special permits relating to Stone Bridge’s status as an Interchange Special Development Project.
As Andrew Martelli, Cheshire’s coordinator of economic development, reported to the town’s Economic Development Commission at a recent meeting, the developers have already secured letters of intent with interested tenants for about 70% of its available retail spaces. Those arrangements can be made official following PZC approval of the permits.
Tom Scott, one of the project architects, presented an overview of the likely grocery, restaurant, and retail spaces located at 1973 and 1989 Highland Ave., which are slated to include amenities like outdoor dining.
Some commissioners worried about adherence to the proposed design, however, Scott did acknowledge that, once actual construction begins, corporate tenants might have their own requirements for signage and appearance.
“Although we haven’t addressed those standalone buildings yet, it depends on who the operator is. Sometimes they come in and they have a prototype they want to use, but of course the town has the ability to review that and make modifications,” Scott said. “We’ll work with them and we’ll try to get them to be in tune with the design that we’ve come up with for the rest of the center.”
Project attorney Anthony Fazzone commented that “it will be compatible with this and consistent with this (design).”
Commissioner Tom Selmont mentioned that “national franchises come in and negotiate their design because their construction company is used to outfitting it a certain way. Unfortunately, I think those national franchises try to come in and cheapen it up a little bit because it’s cookie-cutter.”
“They showed you an architectural theme throughout the site based on what Mr. Scott proposed. Now, if they propose something that doesn’t meet what you’re seeing tonight — let’s say the architecture changes and it’s more modern, it’s not a farm house look — that’s something that would then have to come back to this Commission to get a blessing, because you have a very specific setup that’s been approved,” Town Planner Michael Glidden told the PZC.
“This is a complicated project, as you can imagine,” said Paul Bowman, of Miller, Napolitano, Wolff, the project’s developer. “We have a Town of Cheshire sewer line that comes through (the area) and we have to work around that as well. So, we really have to almost build everything in order to make it all work and that’s the trick of this.”
Consultant Donald Poland presented on some of the likely economic impacts that Cheshire could experience as a result of the commercial development.
Calling this work “much more straightforward” than his prior residential analysis for Stone Bridge Crossing, which involved projecting school enrolments, Poland forecast an appraised value of $20 million for the 136,000-square-foot plaza. That means an assessed value of $14 million that “works out to about $488,000 per year in taxes,” Poland concluded. A convenience store and gas station aspect — a separate lot that is also under consideration — was included in his study as well. Poland estimated $33,000 a year in tax revenue from that business, or about $520,000 total in taxes.
Poland cited research from the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities that shows 27% of taxes generated from commercial-industrial uses go toward government services, including police, fire and public works. “So, you end up with essentially a net positive of about $380,000 in real property taxes,” Poland indicated. Additional one-time fees, such as building permits, would add about $210,000, said Poland.
“We estimate 40 full-time-equivalent construction jobs. Permanent jobs for the mix of retail uses runs around 429 jobs — 127 are probably full-time, 302 part-time, with a wealth creation of approximately $11.7 million in wages being paid overall,” Poland stated. “You have this phase of the development as very much fiscally positive,” he said.
When asked by Selmont about what the new developments might mean for police and fire coverage, Poland characterized the impact as minor, saying, “You will most likely absorb this development.”
Commissioner Casey Downes criticized that answer as “cavalier,” saying “It will impact, we just don’t know how yet.”
Poland defended his point of view as derived from his experience, including time in municipal government. Glidden brought up the mutual aid agreement with Southington’s fire services, saying it could “supplement” coverage.
The final presentation relating to Stone Bridge involved the proposed gas station and convenience store to be sited on the southeastern corner of the development, known as Lot 1.
“We do have a portion of this property that is located over the north Cheshire aquifer, Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority aquifer. None of the aspects of the gas station are located over the aquifer,” Fazzone said.
Project engineer Darin Overton elaborated, saying, “We have an aquifer protection zone along the Route 10 frontage on the eastern part of the site. So, as part of that, some of the discussions we had with the Regional Water Authority, recognizing that they have authority over that aquifer protection zone, it kind of dictates what we can do with this parcel, particularly with the major aspects of it.”
The gas canopies and storage tanks, for example, cannot be located within the aquifer protection zone, per Overton.
“Because it’s a gas station use where we may have an opportunity for higher level of contaminants on the pavement, we actually have hooded catch basins so that we can trap any sort of spills or any sort of floatables right at individual catch basins. There’s also a hydrodynamic separator that will again separate debris and floatables in it. Then we have an isolator row in our underground storm water management in our northwestern corner,” Overton explained.
During the hearing, Commissioner Woody Dawson offered his opinion that, with a project of this size, the PZC might not be equipped to make all the necessary judgments about technical matters.
“In big projects like this, we should have a consultant helping us (on) things we’re probably not capable of doing,” said Dawson. “You’ve got laymen up here making decisions. I know we’ve got a building inspector, but I personally think that we should have an engineer go and make sure that everything is done as approved. We do have a lot of powers that we seem to let go.”