Cumberland Farms Woos Westville

Paul Bass PhotoCumberland Farms wants to bring a slice of the suburbs to this upper Whalley block. It has won some neighbors to its side.

The chain has filed a request for a variance with the Zoning Board of Appeals seeking to raze a liquor store and six adjoining buildings on Whalley Avenue by the corner of Dayton Street, and to spend $3 million putting a suburban strip-style 24-hour convenience store and gas station there instead. The operation will not be selling beer, liquor, or tobacco.

Months in advance of submitting those plans, Cumberland Farms officials met three times with Alderwoman Angela Russell and with neighbors to get feedback on security, traffic, and landscaping concerns.

The plaza would replace, beside Whalley Liquors,  a barber shop as well as residential buildings. Russell said she supports the final plan, but does plan to draft a letter requesting that the location not sell rolling papers.

Sixteen neighbors made their concerns known at the most recent “community conversation” organized by Ward 27 Alderwoman Russell, last Thursday evening at Mauro-Sheridan School. Russell has been in contact with Cumberland Farms representatives since April.

Seated at cafeteria tables, with paper cut-outs in the shapes of fruits on the walls, the attendees participated in a lively back-and-forth with Chuck Meek, a spokesman from First Hartford Corporation, and Patrick O’Leary, a principal at VHB, the engineering firm contracted to develop the plaza.

Safety Concerns

CORA LEWIS PHOTOSixteen security cameras – no fewer. And no outdoor seating, which might encourage loitering.

These are among the changes concerned citizens made to the original plans since the first meeting with Cumberland Farms representatives months ago. Thursday night, several expressed further concerns about safety, pedestrian walkways, and late-night lighting.

“Kids are kids, and it’s an urban area. My experience with Cumby’s is it’s typically in suburban markets,” said Westville activist Andrew Orefice, 36, who works at Yale-New Haven Hospital. He stressed the importance of having security cameras on all green areas, whether adjacent to the street or to residences.

Others brought up recent robberies at CVS and the shooting of a manager at Burger King, asking how Cumberland Farms will safeguard against similar crimes.

“I’ve done a lot of retail, and I try to help the community understand. You need a starting point sometimes where you get rid of the old buildings and bring something new in,” said O’Leary. “It’s not [because] I work for Cumberland Farms, but I’ll be honest with you - if you take a Cumberland Farms building versus a 7-11, they’re dramatically different. And I want the Cumberland Farms next to me, not the Hess.”

Traffic & Cheaper Gas

O’Leary (at right in photo, with Meek) clarified that Cumberland Farms stores are not “destination locations.” They depend primarily on pass-by traffic. While people might drive five miles to go to Home Depot, Cumberland Farms operates on a different model. The company was interested in the Whalley location because of its existing traffic; it is one of the city’s most-traveled thoroughfares.

“In probably the first month or two or three weeks, there’s always a newness and curiosity factor,” O’Leary said. After that wears off, store traffic should return to ordinary levels, he said.

The state spent over $18 million to widen that stretch of upper Whalley to allow more traffic to zoom through the neighborhood.

A number of neighbors at Thursday’s meeting asked Meek what will separate this 24-hour store from others in the neighborhood. Some described the plan as resembling a 7-11 with a better color scheme and better landscaping.

“Outside of the design of our building and our structure, outside of the attractiveness on the outside, the interior is excellent,” said Meek.

He described the space: big open vaulted ceilings and hardwood floors, with all products at eye level and below. Meek said the store would be comparable to the Cumberland Farms location in Vernon. In addition to coffee, the spot would sell ice cream, slushies, and hot food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

O’Leary mentioned that a Cumberland Farms near his home drove gas prices down by 12 or 14 cents because of a smart-pay card that gives the buyer an automatic 10 cent discount. In order to compete, other local gas stations dropped their prices to match or under-sell the Cumberland Farms, he said

All said, according to Meek, Cumberland Farms believes it has an overall better product. It will also bring new jobs to the area, he said.

A typical Cumberland Farms employs 12-15 people, he said. Meek promised to hire people from the neighborhood for this store. He added that the company is currently working with local police on a safety plan.

Westville Warms

Anne Weaver Lozon, a Westville activist, described the plan as “a suburban design plunked on an urban corner.” She said she opposes the plan.

“I think it’s going to be another hangout spot,” said Tennille Murphy, a home-based businesswoman who has owned a home on Dayton Street for 15 years. “I don’t see why it needs to be 24 hours.”

“We need economic development, and this is the only offer on the table,” countered Minister Richard Furlow. Furlow said he will be able to see the Cumberland Farms from his home, and he favors the change in his view.

Alderwoman Russell called the plan “a responsible economic development opportunity that will bring great value to the community.” She added: “I still live here. It affects me the way it affects everyone else. I also believe it will help ease the tax burden.”

The plan needs to go before the City Plan Commission for review as well as a final vote by the zoning board.

Meek said he felt positive at the end of Thursday’s meeting, after all the give-and-take that has occurred over the past months.

“It took time to get them on board, so it was nice to have some public support today,” Meek said. “Obviously we didn’t get it at first.”


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posted by: ELMCITYPROF on November 18, 2013  10:25am

Last week I passed by this corner and saw at least 5 police cruisers near the barbershop searching the parking lot. This is an increasingly common scene on upper whalley. I’m disappointed that the Cumby rep gave such shallow responses to residents’ very serious queries regarding what makes their store different from similar ventures in the area. Hardwood floors and vaulted ceilings are nice. But say very little about discouraging criminal elements. Residents are more concerned about public safety than aesthetics. It’s critical that this be addressed.

posted by: Gener on November 18, 2013  10:34am

It’s hard to imagine a Cumberland Farms not selling cigarettes.

posted by: Pedro Soto on November 18, 2013  10:39am

Hard to really mince words on this one. While the existing collection of buildings and uses is certainly nothing to be excited about, the

Cumberland Farms will gut what potential there was in this area. The end result is going to be now 2 gas stations across the street from each other, a CVS at the end of a parking lot, and a convenience store, with a take out pizza and mexican place sandwiched in between.

A place that needs to be stripped of outdoor seating and that requires 16 security cameras because of safety concerns is a ridiculous use of this area. It’s going to end up as an area even fewer people want to frequent.

This is one of the worst ideas I’ve seen come up for consideration in the city in years, and I generally give most development projects the benefit of the doubt.

posted by: Colin M. Caplan on November 18, 2013  10:40am

This must be stopped! The destruction of these historic and potentially charming buildings along Whalley Avenue to make way for suburban style development means we lose the identity and connectivity of our urban city. No smart city would allow a tightly woven corner like this to be razed for a strip mall, gas station and overly-lit parking lot. Economic development means wise planning, not the invitation for crap planning and design. Please call upon City Plan if you agree.

posted by: David Backeberg on November 18, 2013  11:04am

I challenge the supporters of this proposal to try to be a pedestrian in this location. It’s already really rough; Whalley is too wide, the inbound side is losing a lane right there, but people use the bus stop as a merge lane because there’s no physical barriers stopping them from barreling through at 35.

Putting another gas station diagonal from the Hess will make it a bigger nightmare. How do the designers envision the cars getting in and out of that location? Probably by moving the bus stop to a weird location, and putting multiple wide ramps over the sidewalk. Ugh.

With all that said, I would support it if there was a minor redesign with a concrete barrier to prevent people going straight from the right inbound lane of Whalley. And a second minor redesign to raise a barrier to prevent drivers from turning left over the double yellow from the outbound side of Whalley (or exiting the Cumberland left). And in fairness to Hess, a third minor redesign to prevent people from turning left out of Hess, or turning left into Hess from downtown side.

Put that condition on the permit.

posted by: AndyH on November 18, 2013  11:11am

Great things are possible on this corner—anybody else remember the old M&T deli?

posted by: cunningham on November 18, 2013  11:23am

I don’t like it. First off, while it might not cause an increase in traffic in terms of sheer volume, people turning in/out of the lot is certain to gum things up on that stretch of Whalley (especially when you consider that one of the access roads would be the narrow, poorly-maintained Dayton St.) Second, I’m concerned that it would put the Hess station across the street out of business, which would then likely sit vacant, a spot of blight that undoes any economic development that the Cumbies brings. Third, and this is a more personal note, I’m not too thrilled with the prospect of generic suburban encroachment into the city on an aesthetic level (not that that liquor store is easy on the eyes.)

posted by: anonymous on November 18, 2013  12:18pm

Another absolutely terrible plan that won’t impact the people who approved and planned it.

Of course, the real blow to land values, safety and walkability was from DeStefano/Harp/Looney, though, in 2009. If we had listened to residents and hadn’t allowed the State to widen Whalley Avenue a few years back, we probably wouldn’t be getting anti-urban rest stops like this now.

Many other cities are adding convenience stores and doing it in a radically different, much more city friendly way.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on November 18, 2013  1:21pm

So economic development is demolishing seven multi-story, mixed use buildings in order to build a parking lot, some gas pumps and a single story convenience store directly across the street from the exact same thing? Yep, nailed it - that makes a ton of sense.

How is losing density, diversity and a street edge considered economic development? It’s like we’re moving back in time and this site is devolving.

If anybody wants to know why traffic is so bad on Whalley look no further than all the curb cuts accessing all the suburban-style strip mall single story fast food joints and convenience stores scattered along upper Whalley. A few more developments like this Cumberland Farms proposal and the State will be coming back looking to add another lane in each direction in order to deal with the traffic conjestions that is inherent with suburban style development (think Boston Post Road). 5 or 6 small businesses, a handfull of housing units being replaced for a single corporate chain that sells microwaved hot dogs - really? This is being taken seriously, really?

Also, its difficult to tell from the small site plan image but is one of the seven proposed demolitions the c.1831 Greek Revival farm house located at 1144 Whalley Avenue?,-72.966889&spn=0.000004,0.001381&t=h&z=19&layer=c&cbll=41.328877,-72.967402&panoid=bmS87goN0JEu-KBlnDSj_w&cbp=12,205.64,,0,-0.95

More businesses, more housing, more families, and more pedestrians is what this area of Whalley needs not another asphalt moat with an aluminum can of a building stuck in the center. Furthermore, its unconscionable to even think about tearing down 1144 Whalley Avenue for a gas station - at an absolute bare minimum preserve that building. Hopefully I’m reading the site plan incorrectly and that property isn’t included in the proposed demolition but it certainly appears that it is.

posted by: JuliS on November 18, 2013  1:49pm

this is awful.

we do not need another gas station. and the fears of a 24 hour spot attracting criminal activity is totally valid, and were not adequately addressed here.

yes, we need economic development, but that doesn’t mean we should settle for whatever we can get.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on November 18, 2013  1:49pm

*The 1831 Greek Revival farm house is at 1122 Whalley not 1144.

posted by: Stephen Harris on November 18, 2013  2:01pm

This is completely inappropriate development and another good reason why we need to replace our current ordinance with a form-based code.

If this happens we’ll have two large parking lots on neither side of Dayton.  Through in Hess and we’ll have one big blob of surface parking with multiple points of entry onto Whalley at the intersection.

Route One development should stay on Route one.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on November 18, 2013  2:28pm

Looks like my initial post didn’t go through, so that correction doesn’t make much sense.

To summarize:

5 or 6 local, small businesses
10-12 housing units
c. 1831 Green Revival farm house at 1144 Whalley Avenue
A nearly continuous street frontage

are being replaced for:

A surface parking lot
Gas pumps
Single story convenience store

Upper Whalley needs more small businesses, more housing, more families, a more conitinous street frontage, and more pedestrian activity. This proposal is going in the exact opposite direction of what is needed. Not to mention, we already have this exact same thing directly across the street.

If anybody wants to know why there is so much traffic congestion on Whalley then look no further than all the curb cuts accessing the suburban style strip mall fast food joints and convenience stores. A few more proposals like this Cumberland Farms and the State will be back to add another lane in each direction to Whalley in order to compensate for the lowered roadway capacity that results from “economic development” of this style.

A loss of housing and commercial space seems like the opposite of economic development, even if the real estate value of the Cumberland Farms does exceed the $1 Million that the current properties are worth. A facade restoration program and some small scale development and improvements in this district can increase density, diversity, activity and values without the loss of these perfectly pleasant and functional buildings, including a historically significant 1831 Greek Revival house.

posted by: FacChec on November 18, 2013  3:09pm

Cumberland Farms in New Haven County:
Half of the 20 stores are 24hr stores:

A typical Cumberland Farms employs 12-15 people, he said. Meek promised to hire people from the neighborhood for this store. He added that the company is currently working with local police on a safety plan.

Might not be a bad deal..depending on what they will be asking the city to contribute, that’s always the last question to be answered.

posted by: SLP on November 18, 2013  9:53pm

This is a tough one. I live nearby and have for 20+ years. Yes, I remember the M&T Deli, fondly. And its short-lived successor, Soupy Pails. But that’s well over 15 years ago. I am a big fan of New Haven’s urban fabric ... even—and sometimes especially—the tattered bits. Still, the SW side of Whalley at this corner and heading towards Westville Village until Chapel Haven is profoundly, depressingly unkempt and ugly. I am struck each time I drive by at how aggressively unattractive many of the older existing businesses and properties are. And so, Cumberland Farms is definitely appealing in certain ways, and much more so than some other options one can imagine, including, perhaps, what’s currently there. But I do balk to think that installing a Cumberland Farms would raze old buildings with potential, as others have pointed out. Furthermore, the need for another gas station is completely nonobvious, and the imperative to make a difficult, busy intersection more difficult and busy, ditto. I confess reluctantly to being tempted by an approachable, well-stocked, 24-hour convenience store with meals ... but I think I have to fight that urge and vote No.

posted by: citoyen on November 18, 2013  10:50pm

If I remember correctly, when the Walgreen’s was built at the corner of Whalley and Ellsworth, the neighborhood absolutely insisted that the building be sited so that it forms street walls at the intersection’s corners, with the parking lot moved to the side.  Rather than having the parking lot at the corner itself.  Something like that.

The same should be demanded—AT THE VERY LEAST—in this Whalley / Dayton location.  The building should be at the corner, with the parking at the side and in the rear somewhere.

But I concur with others that this whole concept is exactly the wrong thing to build at all.  It is utterly backward urban design thinking.  A forward-looking approach (as currently defined, not as defined in the 1960s) would be to take advantage of the multiplicity of buildings currently on the site and to develop further the mixed uses they are already being used for.

The critics of widening Whalley Avenue are being proved correct.  If you built it, they will come.  Build a traffic highway, and more strip malls will surely come.

posted by: anonymous on November 19, 2013  12:13am

The station will also destroy the value of surrounding homes, putting this section of Westville into a permanent death spiral to an even greater extent than the city’s highway widening project already has.

“study shows that a “minimum” distance of 50 metres (about 150 feet) should be maintained between petrol stations and housing.”

These pumps look much closer to the homes than 150 feet.

“Despite all the modern health and safety guidelines they must follow, gas stations can still pose significant hazards to neighbors, especially children. Some of the perils include ground-level ozone caused in part by gasoline fumes, groundwater hazards from petroleum products leaking into the ground, and exposure hazards from other chemicals that might be used at the station if it’s also a repair shop.”

“The greater the number of pumps at the gas station, the larger the area of contamination was found to be, extending up to 300 feet from the station. Perhaps the most harmful of these chemicals is Benzene. Benzene is a known carcinogen that has been shown to affect the central nervous system, respiratory track, and the immune system. After prolonged exposure, it has also been shown to cause brain damage, anemia, and leukemia. Toluene is another chemical that is found in gasoline vapors; and it is associated with cardiac arrthymias, liver and kidney failure, and developmental problems in fetuses.”–-an-inconvenient-neighbor/

The pumps look like they are definitely within the 300 foot radius of many homes. 

There is a reason why the city’s comprehensive planned suggested no more gas stations on Whalley Ave - it’s too bad that our officials don’t listen to the people who live here, once again.

posted by: NewHavenTaxTooHigh on November 19, 2013  1:18am

Typical response from New Haveners. A developer shows up and immediately people say no. The next reaction will be for the local alderperson to insist on x number of people hired from the ward at union wages. This is why nothing ever gets done. The cumberland farms development wouldn’t be my first choice, but it’s a heck of a lot better than what is there right now

posted by: Stephen Harris on November 19, 2013  7:17am


It is typical of many New Haveners to criticize bad development and praise good development.

Suburban-style development is bad for cities, and not much good elsewhere.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on November 19, 2013  11:22am

I will say it again.Read this Book.It is going to happing here In New Haven.

City for Sale: Ed Koch and the Betrayal of New York.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on November 19, 2013  5:52pm


Stephen Harris is right. Check out the comments on this article:
Stephen Harris, Pedro Soto, anonymous and myself spoke in favor of this development because we feel it is good. We speak out against this Cumberland Farms development because we don’t think its good.

The current properties are valued at over $1M collectively, and while Cumberland Farms is proposing to put $3M into the site, that seems wholly inadequate if we’re losing several businesses, a dozen housing units, street-fronting buildings, and a historic farmhouse for a development that will have long term public health and enviornmental impacts - likely bringing the neighborhood down in the longrun. While the current buildings aren’t in excellent condition and some of the businesses might not be ideal - those things are aesthetic and cosmetic, not inherent and foundational.

The current buildings can be renovated, more desirable businesses can be attracted to occupy the current spaces and small additions to existing buildings can raise real estate values to $3M or exceed that very easily.